Captchas are simultaneously the greatest and worst things ever invented.
CAPTCHA is short for Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart. The term was coined in 2000 at Carnegie Mellon University,where these little challenges you face when you try to do something on a web site were born.
The idea is to build a test that proves you’re a human, not a machine, by generating and grading tests that humans can pass but current computer programs cannot.
That’s essential, in a world where bots (no relation) are trying to take over everything on the Internet that involves money.
The trouble is, captchas are frequently too hard for mere mortals, with text so distorted that even the most human of humans can’t pass.
Here, for example, is a Ticketmaster captcha that I saw just seconds ago:
I can kinda sorta make that out, but it’s not easy. And that’s one of the easier captchas I’ve seen lately.
It’s gotten to the point where I frequently have to refresh the captcha three or four times before I get to one that I can actually read.
Which is why I was so glad to see this program from Microsoft Research:
Asirra is a human interactive proof that asks users to identify photos of cats and dogs. It’s powered by over three million photos from our unique partnership with Petfinder.com.
Asirra (Animal Species Image Recognition for Restricting Access) … works by asking users to identify photographs of cats and dogs. This task is difficult for computers, but our user studies have shown that people can accomplish it quickly and accurately. Many even think it’s fun!
Here’s what a typical test looks like:
I had no trouble with this test, in stark comparison to text captchas.
Which do you prefer?