We’ve all filled out those CAPTCHA tests that websites place at the end of online forms to determine whether we’re human or a bot. Pretty much everyone can agree those tests are annoying—who wants to spend even a few seconds peering at a mush of distorted letters, trying to figure out whether a particularly troublesome one is an “a” or an “o”?
Google’s reCAPTCHA project wants to save the Web from CAPTCHA. The underlying idea is quite simple: Instead of having Web users input a string of numbers and letters, a new API will ask them to click a box marked ‘I’m not a robot.’ On most websites, that will apparently be enough; some may introduce an additional checkpoint, such as inputting a series of digits from a pop-up photograph, or matching two photographs from a handful of possibilities:
“This new API also lets us experiment with new types of challenges that are easier for us humans to use, particularly on mobile devices,” Vinay Shet, product manager for reCAPTCHA, wrote in a Dec. 3 corporate blog posting. Having the user select matching images from a small pop-up, for example, is much easier than typing in text on a phone or tablet.
According to Google’s dedicated reCAPTCHA site, the search-engine giant will also attempt to use the API as a backdoor way to tackle projects that could use the collective brainpower of millions of people. “ReCAPTCHA digitizes books by turning words that cannot be read by computers into CAPTCHAs for people to solve,” is one example Google offers of what it’s trying to do. “Word by word, a book is digitized and preserved online for people to find and read.” Other projects include Google Street View and helping train machine-learning systems. (The idea of using verification to help with massive crowdsourcing projects is a relatively old one for Google, which experimented with something similar years ago.)
Early adopters of reCAPTCHA include Snapchat and WordPress. Those interested in registering their own site for the API can check it out here.
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