18 March, 2011

The Man Who Invented Word Verification

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA scienceNOW.

Since you might not be able to watch the video, here's what it's all about:

Luis von Ahn wanted to know what he could do with 100 million people.

When he and his advisor were approached by Yahoo! with a spam problem in email--spammers were acquiring email addresses to send junk into people's inboxes--Von Ahn invented CAPTCHA, which humans can distinguish but computers cannot. (In theory. :P I've had trouble with CAPTCHA several times.)

But it takes time to type those words, and when 200 million people are spending it, it's a lot of seconds. So Luis von Ahn teamed up with a project to put thousands of books onto the Internet, and created something called reCAPTCHA, which places a known CAPTCHA word next to one that the computer does not know--and which comes from one of those books. On average, 120-150 books per day can be typed up thanks to the anti-spam program.

And it's not just books. It's also the entire archive of The New York Times.

So you, in theory, are actually helping to puzzle out hundreds of books when you type CAPTCHA to create accounts, get through computer programs and yes, you got it, comment.

-----The Golden Eagle


Elena Solodow said...

Wow, that's pretty cool!

RaShelle said...

Wow! Who knew? Very cool. =D

Summer Ross said...

Thanks- I learned something new today! Its always interesting to see where things come from.

D U Okonkwo said...

Very clever - that's filling a niche and fixing a need. Thumbs up!

Brian said...

I know I must have filled a library by now!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

What an interesting bit of news .. thanks - Hilary

Lydia K said...

Wow, that's so cool. I had no idea!

Have a great weekend!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Clever! Still drives me nuts though.

Mary Vaughn said...

Nice to know but it's still a pain.

Holly Ruggiero said...

Ah, yes I have many problems reading the CAPTCHA myself. I’ve been close to not commenting when after two tries I still have misread the word!

li said...

I love NOVA. I'm a nerd at heart! Glad to know I'm actually accomplishing something with those annoying little boxes.

KarenG said...

And so now that things are more advanced these days and there are internal spam filters, can we please do away with the captcha phrases, please? I could be writing a book myself in the time it takes to fill in all the word verif blanks of the blogs I visit.

Laura said...

Intriguing! I really enjoyed that post...

Lynda R Young said...

lol...you learn something new every day!

Old Kitty said...

Aaaaaaah!!!! I'm still abit fuzzy as to the captcha concept but hey, if it beats those irritating spammers (booo to them all!!) then hooraaaah for captcha!!!

The video won't play cos I'm in the UK!

Take care

Janet Johnson said...

Wow, that's fascinating! Still annoying, but at least it's doing some good somewhere. :)

Liz said...

Very interesting.

The Words Crafter said...

See, how do people think of this stuff?!!! Amazing. And you always find the Amazing, bravo to you!

Jeffrey Beesler said...

I'd always wondered about who invented it. Now I know.

Talei said...

Well, thats interesting! I still disabled mine though. ;-)

Elle Strauss said...

This I didn't know--thanks for the lesson!

Michael Di Gesu said...

very interesting bit of information.

Now we know who to blame...LOL

Have a great weekend, Golden.


Milo James Fowler said...

I learn something every day. So...they're REAL WORDS? =]

W.B. said...

I would love to have this man's job. :p

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

That's one of those things I've never thought about being invented by anyone. But an actual person came up with the idea and that's kind of cool.

Jules said...

LOL, I knew I was working for free somewhere. :) Have a great weekend Eagle!
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

AllMyPosts said...


I didn't know anything. I never observed that we have Captcha and reCaptcha!!

Ha Ha

with warm regards

mist of the blossom rain said...

That's really fascinating!

The Golden Eagle said...

Elena: I agree!

RaShelle: I know I didn't!

Summer: You're quite welcome!

D U: Thumbs up from me, too.

Brian: The Brian Library. :)

Hilary: You're welcome!

Lydia: Neither did I.


Alex: Me, too. Sometimes it's interesting--but most of the time it's just a bother.

Mary: Unfortunately. :P

Holly: I know! Annoying.

The Golden Eagle said...

Li: NOVA is my favorite TV program. :D

As I am.

Karen: That would be nice! At least they're improving spam prevention.

Laura: I'm glad you did! :)

Lynda: Yeah. :P

Old Kitty: Hoorah indeed! :)

That's too bad. :(

Janet: Yup!

Liz: I agree.

The Words Crafter: It's amazing the way new ideas are implemented every day!

Thank you!

Jeffrey: Good ol' Luis von Ahn. :)

Talei: I did, too. LOL.

The Golden Eagle said...

Elle: You're welcome! :)

Michael: He invented a way to stop spam . . . and brought down the disgruntlement of millions of bloggers. :P

You too!

Milo: Apparently. :P

W.B.: I wouldn't mind having it, either!

Susan: It is, isn't it?

Jules: Ah well. At least they came up with a way so it's not all to waste . . .

You too! :)

Abhishek: It goes my several names--CAPTCHA's just the official one. :P

Emily: I agree!

Simon Kewin said...

It's clever stuff, and admirable, but CAPTCHA tests are so hugely irritating I must admit I turn them off whenever I can.

It's fascinating that humans find them a lot easier to solve than computers, but humans do get them wrong and computers, increasingly, can get them right.

The Golden Eagle said...

I turned mine off--since I read so many posts about how much it was disliked and didn't want to drive people away from my blog. :P

Interesting indeed! Hopefully someone will come up with something that computers can't get through--and humans don't have to deal with at all.

Arlee Bird said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arlee Bird said...

It's amazing and fascinating, but nevertheless Capcha is still annoying for those of us who have to deal with it on a regular basis.

Tossing It Out

The Golden Eagle said...