reCAPTCHA is a system originally developed at Carnegie Mellon University’s main Pittsburgh campus, and aquired by Google in 2009. It uses CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) to help digitize the text of books while protecting websites from bots attempting to access restricted areas. reCAPTCHA is currently digitizing the archives of ‘The New York Times’ and books from Google Books.

reCAPTCHA supplies subscribing websites with images of words that optical character recognition (OCR) software has been unable to read. The subscribing websites present these images for humans to decipher as CAPTCHA words, as part of their normal validation procedures. They then return the results to the reCAPTCHA service, which sends the results to the digitization projects. The reCAPTCHA program originated with Guatemalan computer scientist Luis von Ahn, aided by a MacArthur Fellowship. An early CAPTCHA developer, he realized ‘he had unwittingly created a system that was frittering away, in ten-second increments, millions of hours of a most precious resource: human brain cycles.’

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