Home > Life, The Universe, & Everything > Why reCAPTCHAs Are Actually A Good Thing

Why reCAPTCHAs Are Actually A Good Thing


Luis von Ahn 2011-07-08 via Twitter Profile

Luis von Ahn is the man who invented reCAPCTHAs (and CAPTCHAs). As many of you probably have, like me, experienced the annoyance of filling out these seemingly stupid webforms I was surprised to see a video about them. Luis is a professor at Carnegie Melon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and when he was doing his PhD he came up with the idea for CAPCTHAs. The point of them is, as many of you have seen advertised, human verification – although more than once I have been unable to read them and wondered about my own humanity, haha.

recaptcha taken from recaptcha.net aka http://www.google.com/recaptcha

Turns out that the newer reCAPTCHAs are actually helping us all by digitizing older literature for the benefit of future generations of humanity. You see, as Luis von Ahn explains in the videos I have linked below, because when we are solving these human verification forms we are doing something that no computer can do they realized that it would be a fantastic idea to utilize it in a much more altruistic way. When they try and digitize books and old newspaper archives the way they do it is by scanning the documents into computers. Once that is done they run it through a program called OCR (optical character recognition) but the problem is that the computers run into the same problem spammers’ programs run into – they can’t read a lot of the words. In older documents it is even more of a problem because the type they used and ink would bleed or fade or smudge over the years. This isn’t a problem for you and me to read but for a computer it means that they make a lot of mistakes in digitizing these works. Anyhow, what I am saying in this paragraph is basically a rehashing of what the man who invented it, Luis von Ahn, says in the video below. Seeing as he is the guy who invented it, he does a way better job of it so watch the video. He is also a pretty awesome lecturer from what I can see so if you’re thinking of going to into Computer Science I suggest Carnegie Melon University so you can take a class with this guy.

Check out the video below where Luis explains the use of reCAPCTHAs. It is 12 minutes long and there is also another, more updated version of essentially the same speech available at http://youtu.be/VkdGtXmEzvY. Although this version which I have only linked is 18 minutes long it is, as I said, more updated than the one below, and is available in HD which the version you can watch below is not.

Photo of Luis von Ahn via his Twitter account @luisvonahn

reCAPTCHA taken from recaptcha.net

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  1. December 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Now this is better, human verification and digitizing old literature! I feel better about this improved system in internet security.

    • December 14, 2011 at 12:27 am

      Right? That’s why I wrote this. I thought I would help get the word out some more on this info.

  2. December 12, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Saving old books one reCAPTCHA at a time 🙂 nice post! I wrote a similar one a few months ago. I love the idea that these stupid things have a point so I added one to the commenting system on my blog.

    • December 14, 2011 at 12:36 am

      Cool! Thankfully, I will never have to deal with your reCAPTCHAs on your blog because I am logged into WordPress & Disqus pretty much at all times. WIN!

  1. December 11, 2011 at 4:18 am
  2. December 29, 2011 at 6:19 pm

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