There is an neat article in today’s Sunday Boston Globe entitled Click here…You just captured a book (or Click to Translate in the online version). It describes the way that the reCAPTCHA project takes advantage of the typing that we all do in those little windows that ask us the type the characters we see to prove that we are real humans.
Alan Turing did artificial intelligence work in the 1950’s and, among many other things, tried to devise a foolproof way to tell computers and humans apart. The Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA, sort of) pays homage to him and was invented by Luis von Ahn.
The reCAPTCHA project takes things one step further. Since we’re typing what we see in those little windows anyway, why not use the effort in a constructive way? By having us type words that computers have had problems recognizing when they scan books, we can help to "translate" the text.
In the example window below from the reCAPTCHA Web site, you can see the two words "request" and "under". One of the words is a test to see if we know what we are doing; the other is an indecipherable word from a book scan. When we type what we see, we’re solving one tiny bit of a bigger problem.
If you manage a Web site that uses the CAPTCHA test to block ‘bots, reduce spam, and such, consider switching to the reCAPTCHA project as your source. You’ll be helping a noble cause (digitizing the world’s books) and have an endless source of those tough to read little words. Oh, and it’s free. Click on the reCAPTCHA logo to the right to learn more.