The Evolution of CAPTCHA

Is it just me or are CAPTCHAs getting more and more creative day by day?

I got logged out of a social media site for no reason and when I tried to log in again, six images of a 3D rhinoceros popped up on my screen, each aligned in different positions or angles, asking me to choose the image which had the rhino in the correct position. At first I thought, they were being creative just to appear a cut above the rest.

How simple minded of me!

I did a bit of digging and got myself educated; it turns out our battle against bots is just getting bigger. Also, for the life of me I wouldn’t have ever guessed that CAPTCHA stands for the Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, unless it were a multiple objective question with the other options being – ‘All of the above’ and ‘none of the above’. Seriously, I had always just subconsciously linked it to the word capture because of it’s ostensible resemblance to the word! Think about it – ‘ReCAPTCHA’ sounds like recapture the answer.

Yes, I’m laughing at myself too now.

Thank God for curiosity (and the non-occurrence of any event where this would have been the topic of discussion)!

We know that the quote ‘Evolution is inevitable’ applies not just to living beings, but to technology too. To the whole universe, in fact. But more so for technology, in a fast paced digital world like ours that constantly attracts jokes (and fears) of it heading towards AI dominion. This reminds me of a scene in the playful, futurist TV series Upload, where the AI guy tries to enter a certain spot but is unable to because he couldn’t solve the captcha. He clearly isn’t a smart bot.

Gone are the days when you had to type in a few jumbled letters and numbers to access a site or profile, because that test doesn’t seem to trick the bots anymore. It’s not totally a bad thing because in retrospect, I actually sucked at decoding the jumbled letters. I used to confuse the zeros with alphabet ‘O’ and vice versa. And as if that wasn’t enough they started adding squiggly lines, morphed alphabets and eliminating the spaces between the letters!

I would much rather prefer the images of traffic signals and hydrants.

But, it’s not just Picture Identification now; there are mathematical problems, 3D captcha, Invisible Recaptcha, Ad-injected captcha… it goes on. Did you know that logging in with your Social media account is also a way of verifying that you are not a bot? The tests are getting more interactive and difficult for bots, but researchers testing bots opine that they seem to be adapting to the newer tests.

I’m not tech geek, but that’s basically AI vs AI.

Makes me wonder, while the bots seem to be getting better at solving these puzzles, can we say the same for all of humankind?

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.

— Charles Darwin


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