Friday, September 11, 2009

Are you human ?

If you would like to comment on some blogs (not mine), or do various other things on the internet, you are required to prove that you are a human being. How do you do that ? By looking at a mangled word and typing the text into a box. Since humans are better at pattern recognition than machines, it is then presumed that you are a human. Though judging by the number of times I get it wrong, I must be at least half machine.

Apparently this sort of stuff is called CAPTCHA – Completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart). Trust somebody to come up with an abbreviation like that. As a digression, you may want to read an old rant of mine against meaningless jargon like this here.

Now this set me thinking on various other strange stuff we have to prove in daily life.

• I am always amazed at the need for a birth certificate to prove that you have been born.

• Ditto death certificate to prove that you are dead.

• One of the companies I know requires pensioners to reaffirm every year that they are alive, by producing an “alive certificate” (in prescribed format, no less) to continue drawing their pension.

• How many times have I needed to sign on documents that I am “of sound mind”. Now that’s an entirely debatable assertion.

• I am aware that in our good old country, a farmer can get a write off of a buffalo loan by proving that his buffalo had died. Acceptable proof was the production of a buffalo tail. Needless to say a thriving market existed in reused buffalo tails and the service of rendering your alive and well buffalo tailless.

• Certain countries (there being one really notorious one which I shall not name), require a formal marriage certificate attested by a multitude of government agencies to accept that your spouse is your spouse. Now in countries where a marriage certificate was not the norm, this is a really tough matter. The simpler way is to remarry (complete with sons, daughters, grandchildren present), to the accompaniment of much mirth, to get that prized certificate.

• I am often required to prove that my daughter is my daughter. Her calling me papa is apparently not enough. Thankfully, I got her birth certificate which says so; so it must be so !

• I have just signed a visa application to visit a certain country, where I have been required to aver that I am not a terrorist.

But back to CAPTCHA. Apparently an outsourcing industry has sprung up to serve spammers. Machines have outsourced the job of beating CAPTCHAs to human beings in developing countries. I believe the going rate is $3 per 1000 CAPTCHAs broken. You can, but only, marvel at the business acumen in the outsourcing industry. Make a business of proving to a machine that you are a human. Now that’s something …