Are you sentient? A little test follows.

2010 July 22
by admin

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time working with computers.  I’m starting a venture to help Non-Profit Organizations solve various problems with fund-raising , IT, etc…so I’ve been setting up domains, learning a new CMS, migrating all my mail around.  Like many people, I’ve always found a lot of these things vaguely threatening.  But, I’ve been keeping in mind the first advice I ever got about computers:  You can’t break it.  It’s quite true.  I’ve managed to screw things up a bit, but never caused any physical damage.

On to more pressing business: Today, in setting up a new e-mail account, I was querried by one of those annoying jumbled-letters things often called “CAPTCHA.”  What I find interesting about these is that they are practical implementations of a Turing test, a way of getting objective confirmation that the entity you are dealing with is, in fact, a sentient human.  I find it quite remarkable that private enterprise has devised a practical implementation of a philosophical question that has bothered people since the dawn of the digital revolution.  I find it even more unusual that millions of people are taking this test every day, usually in mundane contexts (purchasing new monogrammed towels, ordering Jeff Foxsworthy outtakes, sending salacious text messages, etc..) and seldom think of the implications.   It’s odd, that one can take a test for human intelligence, pass it, then order expired pork rinds on an online auction site.

More practically, these Turing tests are damn hard.  I find myself adjusting glasses, squinting and mouthing the weird koan-esque tangles of letters and numbers.  Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t inverse-Turing tests, proving that anyone willing to spend 15 minutes on the damn things are, in fact, stupid.  Today, I finally stooped as low as I could go.  I admitted defeat in the face of one of these tests, and clicked the little assistant icon helpfully depicting a wheelchair.  I mean, seriously, it isn’t enough to keep me squinting and decyphering, now I have to admin disability in order to get the damn thing straight.  The little wheelchair icon automatically downloaded a .wav file that would speak the little tangled phrase to me.

Here it is: Captcha

Listen for a minute.  Is it possible for you to distinguish anything?  What about the creepy mumbling?  It sounds like the soundtrack from a Japanese horror movie crossed with a bad psychedelic art-rock record.  It freaked me out at 10 in the morning with a cup of coffee in my system.  Imagine the effect on someone with a legitimate disability?  It’s a cruel joke.

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