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reCAPTCHA Old Manuscripts Now!

Computers love to digitize books - when a modern font is used with a clear graphic capture, that is. When it comes to older manuscripts, there is another CMU program that uses specialized CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart) called reCAPTCHAS to help computers perform optical character recognition on old books. The little word fragments are taken from books; the method is working - about one million words per day are being deciphered for CMU's book archiving project.


(CAPTCHA-based human-aided Optical Character Recognition)

"More web sites are adopting reCAPTCHAs each day, so the rate of transcription keeps growing," said Dr von Ahn. "More than 4 million words are being transcribed every day. It would take more than 1,500 people working 40 hours a week at a rate of 60 words a minute to match our weekly output."

Dr Von Ahn said reCAPTCHAs are being used to digitise books for the Internet Archive and to digitise newspapers for The New York Times. Digitisation allows older works to be indexed, searched, reformatted and stored in the same way as today's online texts.

As far as I know, the first person who suggested this general idea is Harry Harrison, who wrote about it in his 1956 story The Velvet Glove.

"... whenever a robot finds something it can't identify straight off... it puts whatever it is in the hopper outside your window. You give it a good look, check the list for the proper category if you're not sure, then press the right button and in she goes." An hour passed before he had his first identification to make. A robot stopped in mid-dump, ground its gears a moment, and then dropped a dead cat into Carl's hopper... Something heavy had dropped on the cat, reducing the lower part of its body to paper-thinness.

Castings... Cast Iron... Cats... There was the bin number. Nine.
(Read more about human-based object recognition)

Read more about Web security function being used to digitise old books; thanks to the indefatigable Moira for pointing this one out.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 8/18/2008)

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