The annoying “captcha” tests designed to spot spammers may soon be making themselves useful, if no less annoying. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University plan to replace deliberately wobbly and obscured text used to dissuade bulk comment spamming with accidentally wobbly and obscured text taken from old, out-of-print books that are too faded or fuzzy for automated character recognition. The ReCaptcha test aims to kill two birds with a single brick: spammers are deterred and old books get digitised. It’s a neat idea, but to be useful, the system has to present at least two words: one that’s known or previously deciphered by others to actually weed out gibberish answers, plus another new word to actually help with the ongoing deciphering. So we can look forward to doubly annoying tests in the future. There’s no such thing as a free lunch after all, nor a free digitisation service neither.
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