Changing the world of digital communications one two-word CAPTCHA at a time

Ok so how many times have you typed in the oddly shaped words – that usually make no sense when purchasing or signing up for something online? For those of you who don’t know – those oddly shaped and sounding words are called a “CAPTCHA.”
This backstory is going to BLOW your MIND!

Let me start off by saying – I am a HUGE fan of TED Talks – love this platform of sharing worthwhile information that is video-based- BRILLIANT! So at my house the other night we were settling in to watch a TED Talks (on streaming TV through our Roku box)  – just randomly selected one no big deal – let me tell you – I have a new appreciation for the computer science field from just watching this 16 minute TED Talk entitled

Duolingo: The Next Chapter in Human Computation”

Ok so here is the low-down. Luis Von Ahn, Carneige Mellon graduate is one of the developers of the “CAPTCHA” security system. Roughly 200 million CAPTACHAS are typed each day. He figured out that each CAPTCHA takes about 10 seconds of human time and thought “Hey wouldn’t it be great if the human time spent typing in CAPTCHAS could actually work toward achieving something” – I am already LOVING this guy!

So what does he do – he comes up with the two word CAPTCHAS which we have all seen and look like this (I know what you’re thinking and I agree). I have always thought – “Come on computer, why are you wasting my time with typing in two words??!!”

Two Word Captcha

Why two words? Because one word is for security and the other is helping to digitize books! Yes all the books that are now available for download HAVE to be digitized. However, old books that were written 50 or more years ago are often difficult to digitize. Why? Because they are scanned by a computer and when the pages turn yellow or the ink fades the program has difficulty figuring out approximately 30% of the words so we need humans to clarify the words. So one word of your two word CAPTCHA is for security and the other is helping to digitize a book!

Von Ahn introduced this new two word CAPTCHA system  in 2007/2008 – by 2011 more than 350,000 websites including Twitter, Facebook and Ticketmaster were using it equating to the clarification  of  100 million words per day and digitizing more than 2 million books per year!

Is your mind blown yet? Just wait…

So now Von Ahn goes on to figure out that approximately 750 million people (10% of the world’s population) have contributed to digitizing books through the CAPTCHA system – AMAZING! He doesn’t stop there, his new project is driven by the goal of utilizing 100 million people to translate the web into every language – Yup you heard me.

I am telling you this 16 minute TED Talk “Duolingo: The next chapter in human computation” is worth watching – in the words of Nike – Just Do It!


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