Using Existing Human Labor to Solve Problems

The people over at  reCAPTCHA? have a brilliant  idea. They seek to solve two problems at once:

  • How to authenticate people who sign in to websites
  • How to digitize millions of pages of books

The first problem is already solved with, among other things, CAPTCHA— those hard-to-read nonsense words we’ve all come across. The second problem can be solved with the first solutions— why not use real words, taken from real books, and round-trip those word back into the digitized books so they’re available in digital form? It takes the Mechanical Turk concept even farther.

About 60 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, thats not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day. What if we could make positive use of this human effort? reCAPTCHA does exactly that by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into “reading” books.

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