Google announced on Wednesday that the company has acquired reCAPTCHA, a company with an online product used for providing a test that humans can pass and computers generally cannot. A CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart) tool is used in many places on the internet and often when submitting information to ensure that it is a human submitting the information and not some bot software filling out forms automatically on the internet.
A CAPTCHA program would provide text that is not easily and usually impossible for a automated character recognition program to decipher, but easy enough that a human could identify the letters in the text. The person submitting the information would then enter the text they see to “prove” that they are human and not a machine.
What makes reCAPTCHA so interesting and valuable for a place like Google is that they are using their CAPTCHA tool to help digitize text in books that a computerized OCR tool was unable to decipher. The tool will show a known word and then an word from a book that was unreadable by their system that digitizes the books. When the public uses the reCAPTCHA tool, they must enter both words. In doing this the tool keeps track and when the unknown word is identified the same enough times, it is added to the known words.
The reCAPTCHA tool is free for developers to use and supports a multitude of different languages and environments. The project started out an academic project led by Luis von Ahn at Carnegie Mellon but eventually turned into its own company. von Ahn will now work for Google on the reCAPTHCA project.