October 04, 2007

A Bright Spot for Books

It's the Frankfurt Book Fair (or Frankfurt Buchmesse) this weekend, and bookish people are scrambling to arrange meetups and coffee with other international book folks. Though Germany is mere hours away, I'm still too stunned to do that much traveling. Next time!

Meanwhile, today's cool news item comes from the American heartland in Pennsylvania. Carnegie Mellon University is wielding technology in a truly awesome fashion in order to preserve old books.

You know how many of our blogs use CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart) -- those little distorted 'write these letters you see' tests to be sure you're not a spammer? Well, university researchers are digitizing old books in order to preserve ancient texts. Unfortunately, their software doesn't allow them to really read the books well, because the letters are on aged paper and the type has smeared and distorted over time. According to the BBC report, "The only reliable way to decode them is for a human to examine them individually - a mammoth task since CMU processes thousands of pages of text every month."

Enter CAPTCHA -- and you.
Those phrases the software can't decipher? Coming soon to a blog near you.
I will never be grumpy about that extra ten seconds it takes to decipher those twisty letters and numbers. Through popular websites, the average person is helping decipher a million words a day.

Go! Surf the web! You have the PERFECT excuse!


Sarah Stevenson said...

OMG, that is freakin' neato. Woo!!

Sara said...

I never knew...is it going to be like those giant SETI projects where you can sign up to participate?

tanita✿davis said...

Wouldn't that be cool? So far it's on Facebook -- who knows. I'd love it at our blog!