John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Insert Bad "Google Captchas reCAPTCHA" Pun Here

recaptchaEvidently, Google’s efforts to create a new CAPTCHA system that requires people to rotate images until they’re upright, aren’t moving as quickly as the company would like. Because this morning, the search giant said it had acquired reCAPTCHA, developer of the Web’s preeminent CAPTCHA technology. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

CAPTCHA, for those of you just joining us, stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Essentially, it’s a challenge-response test used to distinguish between humans and spam-spewing robots. What’s interesting about reCAPTCHA’s implementation is that it’s used for digitizing books.

“Since computers have trouble reading squiggly words like these, CAPTCHAs are designed to allow humans in but prevent malicious programs from scalping tickets or obtain millions of email accounts for spamming,” Google explains in a post to the company blog. “But there’s a twist–the words in many of the CAPTCHAs provided by reCAPTCHA come from scanned archival newspapers and old books. Computers find it hard to recognize these words because the ink and paper have degraded over time, but by typing them in as a CAPTCHA, crowds teach computers to read the scanned text.”

An ingenious idea, crowdsourcing book transcriptions in this way. An effective one too: reCAPTCHA boasts 99.5 percent accuracy at the word level.

Little wonder, then, that Google (GOOG) has acquired it. The company can clearly put reCaptcha’s technology to good use, not just as a security measure, but as a means of improving its own massive book-scanning project.


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