If you have trouble with those distorted words while signing up for something online, you’re not alone. CAPTCHAs, as they are officially known, stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.”  Even after decades of research, computers can’t seem to decipher mangled characters the way a human brain can. Luis von Ahn, a computer scientist from Carnegie Mellon University, has developed a security system called reCAPTCHA that keeps that tried-and-true robot filter in place, but harnesses that basic human function for research. Von Ahn’s system pairs a real security word with a word from a historical document that computer-based optical character recognition can’t figure out. If three separate users agree on the meaning of the word then it’s accepted and translated to the digital record.

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