Interpreting the textual Rorschach test known as CAPTCHA is a time-honored tradition for Internet users. For years, we have cocked our heads like confused parrots, puzzling over the skewed letter-number combinations. Back in 2012, Slate predicted the death of the much-reviled authentication technology. Software companies created artificial intelligence capable of breaking it. Its days seemed to be numbered. But like a resilient phoenix, CAPTCHA has risen again. And this time it isn’t so bad.
On Wednesday, Google’s Online Security Blog announced an upgrade to the old CAPTCHA. Called “No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA,” the new technology uses an “Advanced Risk Analysis backend” that monitors user engagement before, during, and after the CAPTCHA process. (reCAPTCHA is simply a version of the original software application in which user input helped computer programs to digitize books.) Nonmobile users simply click a box that reads “I’m not a robot,” and the new API does its thing. (Somewhere, a spam-bot is crying digital tears.) Google doesn’t go into the nitty-gritty of how the risk analysis tools work, but it seems pretty confident about the new approach.
To rescue mobile users from fumbling around with phone keyboards, Google developed something reminiscent of childhood matching games. Users will be given an image and asked to match it to a series of different images. For example, you may see a rubber duck. Underneath it you’ll see five photos of rubber ducks, and four photos of former Vice President Dan Quayle. Simply tap on the ducks, and you’re done. (Google’s blog used turkeys and kittens to illustrate this.) Fun! Once you’ve finished and clean up, you can have butter cookies and apple juice.
But user beware: The old CAPTCHA isn’t yet dead. If the new version cannot determine whether the user is human, it’s back to the jumbled text you know and love. It seems as long as spam-bots roam the Internet, we will have to keep proving our humanity.
Google explains the new process more in the video below.