Captchas and the Matrix

If any have ever doubted the potency of my geekiness, my latest hobby should make it clear. I've never been a TV watcher, but I don't think that's the fault of flat moving image technology. The reason I don't watch TV is because it's typically so depressingly moronic. The internet to the rescue!

I have recently discovered that there is a lot of stuff that is quite worthwhile in the eye of this beholder. My latest trove of interesting things to watch are computer science lectures. Google Tech Talks are all on-line as well as many university lectures. Since one of the greatest things about my job is the chance to get exposure to some of the most brilliant people in computer science (i.e. some of the most brilliant people), it's a real pleasure to do that at my liesure.

Last night while researching HCI security I came across a presentation by Luis Von Ahn. Wow. This guy is amazing. He seems to be one of the key people behind (and perhaps even the outright inventor of) captchas. Whatever you may think of that from a day to day standpoint, it can't be argued that it's not damn clever. But that's just the tip of the iceberg for this guy.

His next brilliant project is espgame.org. The principles behind this show incredible insight and big picture thinking. I like that! Then today I read about a new thing this guy has which is captchas that actually are useful. The idea is that the captchas are based on scanned documents that the OCR couldn't read. Basically by typing in the captcha you are helping to enter the text of works of literature. Ok, I don't know exactly what you're labor is being applied toward, but the concept is nothing short of genius.

Basically, this guy thinks big and I loved his stats about how in 2004 humans spent 9 *billion* hours *playing solitaire*! He asks the question, what if that energy and initiative (such that it is) could be applied to something that wasn't completely useless. It's a valid question.

He also is interested in what humans are good at that is useful which computers are not so good at. These kinds of problems are interesting to me too. He wryly envisions a possible future where machines become more intelligent and capable than humans just like in the movie the "Matrix", but unlike the movie, the computers wouldn't keep humans around as an energy source; they would, quite plausibly, keep us around for the clever tricks our biologically inspired hardware can do that machines aren't good at.

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