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I am not a robot

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reCAPTCHA: I am not a robot
Credit: Shutterstock: GagoDesign


In our increasingly AI-driven world, the necessity to prove our human identity is more pervasive than ever.


It s a challenge we encounter almost every time we sign up for a new website or service.


One way to do this is via a CAPTCHA device, which is itself automated. CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart.


It is named after Alan Turing, who invented a test in 1950 that could assess a computer’s ability to mimic human behaviour.  This was not so much about getting a series of questions correct but, moreover, exemplifying the same behaviour of a human being.  Although sharing his name, a CAPTCHA is doing the opposite, ensuring that a user is a human, not a bot.


To do this, the user is presented with jumbled-up letters and numbers that they must decipher and retype. The theory is that bots would be unlikely to be able to complete this task.


Ironically, according to a recent study at the University of California, AI bots are actually more efficient at solving CAPTCHA’s than humans.


What is reCAPTCHA, and how does it work?

Google provides the reCAPTCHA alternative. The reCAPTCHA’s functionality is more advanced than the CAPTCHA s and does not rely on distorted letters and numbers.


Currently, three types of reCAPTCHA’s are in operation, and each behaves differently.


An image recognition test asks the user to click on squares containing a specific object, such as street signs or vehicle parts. If their response matches that of the majority of other users, then the probability that they are, in fact, human is deemed to be high enough to ‘pass’.


Some reCAPTCHA tests are even simpler, seemingly only requiring the user to tick a box confirming ‘I am not a robot’.  However, this simple task is insufficient for Google to verify your human status.  When you click, you permit Google to analyse your online behaviour, determining whether you ‘pass’.  This can include mouse movements, browsing history and even time to complete an online form.


Finally, and most recently, CAPTCHA Enterprise requires no user interaction.  Instead, Google takes a holistic view of a user’s website behaviour and applies a score.  In effect, the lower the score, the more likelihood of a bot.


So, next time you check that box to say ‘ I am not a robot,’ remember that it is not as magical as it might first appear.


In today’s era of data transparency, should websites that use reCAPTCHAs be more open about how they work?


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