Those annoyinng reCaptcha codes are actually translating old books

Posted by admin on Nov 23, 2011 in geekery

ReCaptcha codes are one of those necessary evils that inhabit everyday life, as filling them in for security reasons equates to emptying the bins or picking up dry cleaning- useful and important, but hardly fun. If you’re anything like me you may have even uttered a curse word or two as the lovely ReCaptcha code popped up onto the screen, as sometimes the words they give you are so faded and hard to decipher that you feel like you’re decoding some ancient text.

Perhaps it will make you feel a little better if you know that’s actually the truth and your squinty eyed keyboard stabbing at the latest frustrating ReCaptcha code actually IS DECODING an ancient text. Seriously.

So, how did this come about, and what does interpreting those ReCaptcha scrawls actually mean?

Well, we know why we use these codes- it’s so we don’t end up spammed with adverts for Nubian princes and cheap designer deals, and that we can securely login to our social networks when we’re travelling. The text you see when you enter is very distorted and it has been proven that humans can decipher this way better than computers can, so you’re unlikely to have a spambot filling in your email for you (1 point to humans!).

However, the strange pieces of text that we actually decode (estimated at around 200 million Captchas a day worldwide) actually have a benefit to us. All our hard work (collectively) adds up to around 150,000 hours of work a day and reCaptcha has utilized this to help digitize books. Yes, by effectively crowd sourcing a whole lot of Captcha codes worldwide, you are helping translate old books and make them available to the public in a recognizable format. Read more…

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