Recaptcha – One of the most innovate ideas that I have ever seen.

ReCaptchaWe always seem to talk about innovations. Innovations that have changed the world, in some form or other. When we hear the word innovation, certain titles pop out of our mind. I believe if you ask me, Re-Captcha is one thing I really like to talk about. This post is about this little innovation that has really benefited the world.

Some of you know what a captcha is. (For acronym finders its ‘Completely Automated Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart’). It’s the nagging image that comes below any form that you submit on websites. The image has some random letters that you can’t copy and need to type before you submit the form. This helps the website understand that you are a human and not a piece of spamming software. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Digg use recaptchas. So now why I believe this is the most interesting thing to blog about? Here goes the story.

We have a wealth in our old literature. Books, Essays, poems. Knowledge we are not aware of.  Much of which is decaying and is worth preventing from being extinct. The only way is digitizing this stuff. To create a soft copy so that it can stay for ages to come at almost zero cost. Now visualize a professional sitting with those decaying sheets and typing it on a computer. How much will he charge to type the whole book? How much time will this take? How many books can we then save? Sure, we can use software that reads this stuff and digitizes automatically. But again it’s highly unreliable. So to solve this problem, people from Carnegie Mellon University came out with a unique solution called recaptcha. It basically makes those weird captchas but with a difference. It gives you 2 words to type. One of which it knows as it read from those decaying sheets  and the other it can’t read/understand by itself and needs your help. That’s the one word you type and recaptcha digitizes it and you unknowingly help humanity. Not ‘that’ Cool! You feel? Read on the next paragraph for some stats.

As per the recaptcha website we solve around 200 million captchas each day. Now how many books that makes if those were genuine words? We spend 150,000 hours per day to fill stupid captchas. They are random and hence it takes time to read, understand and type. Most of us don’t know typing (without looking at the keyboard). We often relook the word if it’s an ordinary captcha. But with re-captcha we read once and type immediately, this helps us in filling the form faster. It’s a win-win situation, isn’t it? What has this resulted in is Digitizing 160 books every day (as per Wikipedia) and that too Free of Cost!!! We have already digitized 20 years of the New York Times newspapers and will even digitize another 110 years of Newspapers. That freaking! Today more than 30 million re-captchas are served daily. More than 30 million words solved at no cost. (BTW just a mention re-captcha has been a made reality by a team led by Luis von Ahn, more info on their site).

This is an example similar to that of Crowdsourcing that we discussed some time back, right? Do ask yourself these questions. There are hundreds of companies that make millions of dollars and shell a good amount of this as per their CSR initiatives. How many of us have come with such an innovative idea to help the society? It won’t take much to develop such utility that involves the efforts of the whole society, but it takes good grey matter in your head to get such innovative ideas across.

Can we come out with some utility like this that just takes 10 seconds of others time unknowingly and helps for a cause that will impact generations to come.

So next time you are feeling low and think you have done nothing for the society just get to this blog and comment your view on any post. I have added recaptcha to this blog too. You will digitize a few words. Try it, it feels good :)


“Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.”  – Bill Gates quotes

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{ 3 comments }

Walter August 25, 2009 at 2:14 am

Hello Chanda. I seen this on other blogs but I don’t where to get it. I want to integrate this on my blog. :-)

Chanda Himanshu August 27, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Just click the “more info on their site” link of this post…

Rohit May 12, 2011 at 8:29 pm

This is something really interesting…reading something like this makes my day

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