Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Chris Wilson makes the case.

If only someone had listened to computer scientist Moni Naor in 1996, proving that you're human on the Internet would have been so much more interesting. Naor was among the first to propose that simple tests only humans can solve would prevent malicious bots from infiltrating the Web. In an unpublished manuscript, Naor proposed nine possible tests, including gender recognition in images, fill-in-the-blank sentences, and a "deciding nudity" quiz in which you're asked to identify which person isn't wearing any clothes.

Alas, rather than getting to play "find the naked person" every time we sign up for a webmail account, we're now stuck with those reviled squiggly letter tests known as CAPTCHAs. Let's give credit where credit's due: These tests have been incredibly effective in combating spam. But even CAPTCHA pioneer Luis von Ahn, who received a MacArthur genius grant on account of his squiggly-letter work, admitted to me that they won't be a solution forever. For all their success, these tests are a crude way to weed out the bots among us. And they have proliferated to so many sites that the task of proving your humanity on the Internet is beginning to feel like an imposition.

I hope it's soon. Those things are damn annoying.

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