This week may mark the beginning of the end for the CAPTCHA, those intentionally-hard-to-read images that challenge you to prove you are a human and not a bot. An artificial-intelligence start-up claims to have developed technology that can accurately read CAPTCHAs 90 percent or more of the time.
CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, and it requires that you, who we currently assume is human, properly read and type the numbers or letters shown in a distorted image.
On Sunday, San Francisco-based start-up Vicarious said that its algorithms can "reliably solve modern CAPTCHAs," including ones from Google, Yahoo, PayPal, Capcha.com and others. If the claim is accurate, the sudden vulnerability of this anti-bot test could become a significant problem for countless logon-protected sites.
As High as 90 Percent
Vicarious said that a CAPTCHA can be considered broken if interpreting software has a precision of at least 1 percent, while the company said its success rate can be as high as 90 percent for Google's reCAPTCHA, which is the most widely used version. For each letter, the company claims 95 percent accuracy. A recent Microsoft Research paper said that no algorithms it had reviewed could reliably solve CAPTCHAs, even part of the time. Whether or not this potential leaves CAPTCHAs vulnerable to break-ins, Vicarious said its test results do mean that CAPTCHAs are no longer valid as Turing tests.
A Turing test, named for computer pioneer Alan Turing, is a computer-based test that is intended to tell the difference between a human or a computer program.
Vicarious co-founder D. Scott Phoenix said in a statement that modern artificial-intelligence systems like IBM's famed Watson and deep neural networks "rely on brute force," using massive computing power to work on massive sets. By contrast, he said, Vicarious' approach for the first time achieves "this distinctively human act of perception, and it uses relatively minuscule amounts of data and computing power."
The 3-year-old company said that solving CAPTCHAs is only the first public demonstration of its new Recursive Cortical Network technology. The company has issued a video that shows its systems scanning a CAPTCHA and then presenting a list of possible answers, with the most likely one -- which is often the correct one -- at the top.
The Human Neocortex
Vicarious contrasts its approach, which models the targeted processing capability of the human brain's neocortex, with the heavy computational requirements of intelligent agents such as Siri. Its system can fill in the blanks imaginatively, the company told news media, so that its software can "see a dog in the clouds."
Vicarious says it will not be deploying its software commercially and will not be releasing any products for five years, but is simply using CAPTCHA-breaking as a way of demonstrating its system capabilities.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, told us that she, like many users, often has trouble reading a CAPTCHA but eventually makes it through. But if there is software that can reliably fool CAPTCHA, she said, that could be a "massive" issue for many Web sites and IT departments.
Since 2003, there have been various software releases that have claimed to be able to break CAPTCHAs, but each time, either the software was unreliable or CAPTCHAs were modified to stay ahead.
On Friday, Google announced it had updated its CAPTCHAs to create "different classes of CAPTCHAs for different kinds of users" that make them easier to decode -- if you're human.
Posted: 2013-10-29 @ 6:45am PT
Remove the concept of captcha!