San Francisco-based artificial intelligence startup Vicarious has announced that it has developed software algorithms which can solve CAPTCHAs up to 90 percent of the time. Though CAPTCHAs are any automated test which differentiates between humans and computers, they often take the form of strings of partly distorted letters and numbers which many websites use to check that a visitor is human, the idea being that a computer cannot read the disguised text while a human (hopefully) can. It's this type of CAPTCHA that Vicarious's algorithms are designed to beat, and the high success rate renders the current standard of text-based CAPTCHAs ineffective, the company claims.
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The main purpose of a CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, is to prevent automated software bots accessing web services where they might get up to all sorts of nuisance, such as signing up for spam accounts, or adding or editing information in a directory or wiki.
Vicarious isn't the first to develop CAPTCHA-beating algorithms, but the company claims that its system, which uses its Recursive Cortical Network technology, can beat current text-based CAPTCHAS up to 90 percent of the time, including those developed or used by Captcha.com, Google, Yahoo and Paypal, defeating their very purpose in the process.
To put the success rate into perspective, Vicarious cites a 2011 paper out of Stanford, which deemed a CAPTCHA system "broken when the attacker is able to reach a precision of at least 1 percent."
Vicarious talks only in vague terms as to how the algorithms solve the problem, but it does claim that its system uses "relatively minuscule" amounts of data and computing power compared to other modern AI systems such as IBM's Watson, operating at "a level of effectiveness and efficiency much closer to actual human brains."
Commercial applications of the Recursive Cortical Network are still years away, according to Vicarious, and so it would be premature to conclude that CAPTCHA systems have been rendered obsolete over night. Rather, the remarkably high success right would seem to mark this out as a significant step in the field of AI.