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Monday, 5 March 2012

The CAPTCHA protocol, how I loath you...

Alright, rant time. I hate CAPTCHA. It's difficult to properly phrase that because CAPTCHA stands for: Completely Automatic Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. So, with that in mind, forgive any grammatical errors which may be present in this blog.

But, I hate them! Hate may be a strong word, but with a privileged, first-world, university attending, internet using student, there's not much to complain about, really. Sure, debt, lack of time, stress, blah blah, I can and will complain about those later. For now, suffice it to say, I hate those smeared, blurred, stroked-through pictures meant to tell if I am a human or not.

I understand the need, really. In a world of advancing technology and declining morality, it's important to have safeguards which protect us from the scum of humanity. Problem is, there is an inherent lack of sense involved with establishing a technology-based safeguard especially when you're dealing with techno-pirates. I mean, you make the best anti-virus software, some kid in his basement cracks it, makes a better one and locks YOU out. This is happening all the time and it's an interesting problem I'm sure the NSA is all too tired of.

But, let's not go too far off the deep end here. This rant is about CAPTCHA, and in case you don't know that term, here is an example:

What the hell is this!?

Now, technically, the term CAPTCHA refers to any protocol which is made to authenticate the user is a human, such as a box which must be clicked in order to proceed, but specifically, I hate the use of images of letters or symbols which must be identified to gain access. The letters are always so smeared, and so hard to read, which is kind of the point, but it gets me because I fail at those more often than not. The example above is a real example, and what the hell do I type here?

And, it's only going to get worse. With programs such as Google Goggles, computers are gaining the ability to identify patterns visually, something us puny humans have been claiming is so special about our brains for years. Well, it's coming people. Judgement day (Terminator style) is coming, and CAPTCHAs will not help us.

Honestly, I fail at these things more often than not. I mean, if it's a word, even an obscure one, that's not so bad, but when it's a series of overlapping letters, with lines drawn through them, I freak out. Honestly, CAPTCHAs should just have a feature which turns your computer's microphone on after the first attempt and if it hears someone screaming bloody murder, swearing, and smashing fists onto desks, then it should just allow us to pass through. Of course, then hackers and A.I.s will just record said sounds, or generate them and that will allow them to bypass that safeguard.

Problem is, as I've been alluding to this whole time, is that there will be zero way to perfectly identify or differentiate between us and A.I.s soon. Sure, we can make the tests harder, such as this comic here:
but, as we've seen on Jeopardy, a la IBM's Watson, people are continuously trying to upgrade and improve computers, make them more human, make them able to do what we do, and well, it's working.

No amount of fantasy or science fiction is going to convince me that humans and computers will be distinct groups in the future. We will add implants, computers will add chips to make them feel, and CAPTCHAs will not only be obsolete, they'll be racist.

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