3D – the next generation of CAPTCHAs

Whether or not they’re familiar with the term, most Internet users have encountered a CAPTCHA. The contrived acronym stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart,” and the most common incarnation is an obscured series of letters and numbers that the site visitor must visually decipher and type in. The idea is that a human may do this, while a sightless bot cannot. However, this also has some obvious challenges with regards to accessibility, and programs are getting increasingly sophisticated and can now crack many of these barriers. So moving beyond simple character recognition, the next generation of CAPTCHA seems to tap more into human cognition and spatial manipulation.

In one of those great examples of an idea whose time is nigh, it appears that about the same time Marcos Boyington and his brother at YUNiTi.com implemented something on their site, blogger Taylor Hayward wrote about such an idea. Poor Michael G. Kaplan actually developed a model for a 3-D CAPTCHA this idea back in 2004 or 2005, but it never caught on. (His page describing the model claims “patents pending” – who knows what specifically he was hoping to patent, and what the status of that is).

The idea behind these recent 3D CAPTCHA designs is that a human can recognize an object and manipulate it spatially in his mind. This is a step beyond character recognition/repetition and involves an additional level of cognition and understanding. In Hayward’s model he specifically mentions the use of animals, as he claims that humans are “currently able to identify animals faster than any computer given a changing selection of images.”

credit: Taylor Hayward

credit: Taylor Hayward

I’ve never been a big fan of CAPTCHAs from an accessibility standpoint, so I won’t belabor the point here. A blind user is not going to be able to use a 3D CAPTCHA. But what of people with dyslexia: will these tests be easier for them? Or are there other conditions that will find this task particularly hard? It’s been several years since my Neuroscience class, but I am not sure that people with difficulties with depth perception or other cognitive difficulties would be able to pass this CAPTCHA. I’ll admit that the second picture on the YUNiTi CAPTCHA event has me stumped: that’s a pen, isn’t it? I don’t see that as an option…

yuniti.com 3D CAPTCHA

I love the fact that as technology gets more sophisticated, we are compelled to create experiences that are more closely tied into traits and talents that are uniquely human. We are forced to learn more about our own minds, actions and behaviors so as to distinguish ourselves from our creations.

(Original post from CNET: 3D-based Captchas become reality)