reCAPTCHA’s Garbled Genius

June 27, 2008 at 2:41 pm Leave a comment

You know those garbled words that websites prompt you to input for security purposes? Originally designed to prevent spam-generating computer programs, or “bots,” from accessing your personal information, “CAPTCHAs” today actually make beneficent use of your distinctly human ability to read distorted print.

I recently learned that reCAPTCHA, a program developed by Carnegie Mellon, puts these security precautions to good use in the movement to digitize books. Instead of bugging you with purely random text, reCAPTCHA uses words illegible to standard “Optical Character Recognition” programs, thus involving Internet users in a largely unnoticed, yet widely pervasive effort to bring books online. So far, heavyweights Ticketmaster, Facebook and Craigslist have all signed up for the clever program. –Johnny

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