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Most of us are familiar with CAPTCHAs nowadays. We probably don’t know they are commonly known as this, but I’d be fairly confident that anyone reading this blog has come across a site with a CAPTHCA prompt at some stage.

CAPTCHA is those little images with letters and numbers on them, that we must fill in when filling out an online form, to prove that we are in fact human. Most CAPTCHAs have proven quite effective in the fight against spam through email forms, but increasingly, this fight is getting harder. Already there are robots programmed to outwit these defences so the need for a new system is already upon us.

Google has taken one step closer to developing a new CAPTCHA system that it may use on its internet properties in the near future. They’ve cleverly coined this new system as “Socially Adjusted CAPTCHAs”. Sounds great doesn’t it? It sounds like we can all be involved in the growth of this clever new system. Well we can.

The system is built with what you could call an artificial intelligence. Google present images of say an aeroplane upside to a number of people and ask them to rotate the image to its correct orientation. If enough people get the image’s orientation correct, they will use this image. So in the future expect to see pictures of buildings, cars or whatever else you can think of, on their heads.

Apparently 90% of people can accurately do this on high resolution images, with a drop to 84% for thumbnail images.  Computers on the other hand can only accurately do this with a handful of images.

Although I agree that we must fight these robots and spam merchants, I can’t help but think of how difficult it’s going to be for people with activity limiations. Nowhere in the research paper do they mention accessibility and how they will tackle it. I’d love to hear feedback on how they plan to approach this. Let’s just hope they don’t have a “backdoor” for people with activity limitations.

I’d also like to see statistics on how CAPTCHA affects conversion rates and if this will make it worse or better.

For more information visit : http://googleresearch.blogspot.com/2009/04/socially-adjusted-captchas.html

And the full paper :  http://www.richgossweiler.com/projects/rotcaptcha/rotcaptcha.pdf

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