Image: Becky Stern/Flickr
Internet users have digitized the entire archives of the New York Times and thousands upon thousands of books, all in the name of proving they aren't a robot. And they hate it.I hate CAPTCHAs, you hate CAPTCHAs, and my internet browser apparently hates CAPTCHAs because it's terrible at displaying them. Mere minutes ago, I couldn't get tickets to a show that sold out almost immediately because I got an impossible-to-read CAPTCHA.
So here's good news: Google is taking its much reviled series of swirly static images out back and shooting it, putting us all out of our misery.And good riddance, I say.We've yet to see exactly how the "no CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA" is going to work, but Google says that all it's going to require you to do is click a box that says "I'm not a robot."First, a quick look at why CAPTCHAs exist. If you're not familiar, they're squiggly text that is supposedly only readable by humans. They're used on web forms like forum signups, comment posting forms, Ticketmaster searches and the like, and generally consist of two words that you've gotta type in. In most cases, if you don't nail it exactly, you've got to retype it in order to get through. All the while, the words you're typing are digitizing books and New York Times articles, so you can feel like these terrible things were doing some good.CAPTCHAs are an anti-spam measure, but, in the case of Ticketmaster, it's also done to make sure bots can't buy up hundreds of tickets in order to scalp them. Because CAPTCHAs are often very difficult to read, you can easily screw them up, which makes you start the whole thing over. If you're buying, say, Taylor Swift tickets, you're probably out of luck if you don't get it right the first time.And it's not even obvious that they're effective. Google says that the best anti-CAPTCHA bots could solve reCAPTCHAs 99.8 percent of the time, so CAPTCHAs must die not just because people hate them, but because they are ineffective as well.
For example, in my younger days, I went through a ticket scalping phase—one that was lucrative in no small part to the fact that I found out that, back in the day, you only had to type the first four or so letters of the first word of a Ticketmaster CAPTCHA and could write nonsense for the second word, and the whole thing would work.
While I raced ahead to snatch up tickets, computer illiterate parents would slowly type in each letter of each word, taking forever and letting me eventually rip them off because they wanted to appease their bratty children (I told myself the children were bratty, anyway).This loophole has since been closed. I'm not particularly proud of that period of my life, but what I'm saying is the CAPTCHA is a terrible thing.The new model, which builds on old work, basically attempts to assess whether or not you're human by your behavior on a site, without typing anything at all.Google says that it "developed an Advanced Risk Analysis backend for reCAPTCHA that actively considers a user's entire engagement with the CAPTCHA—before, during, and after—to determine whether that user is a human.""The new API is the next step in this steady evolution. Now, humans can just check the box and in most cases, they're through the challenge," the company said in a blog post.If it still thinks you're a robot for whatever reason, you'll have to do a CAPTCHA still. And, if you're on a phone, you'll have to match images, like this, which seems much less cruel than asking me to tap out some 16-letter word with my huge fingers.And, just maybe, we'll soon all have the same shot at getting tickets to a show we want to go to. Here's hoping we won't have to pray to the CAPTCHA gods that we get something like CAT FOOD instead of ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANIST SERENDIPITY.