For those familiar with ReCAPTCHA you know that Google acquired the ingenius tool some time ago. The service provides two features. Spam prevention for site owners, and nearly flawless OCR for Google. OCR is Optical Character Recognition, and is the difficult task of having computers read the words, letters and symbols in scanned text or images. ReCAPTCHA shows 2 words. One word it already knows, which provides the spam prevention. The second word it is trying to figure out. So it will use your input, and the input from thousands of other end users to build a consensus. Using this technology ReCAPTCHA has already digitized the entire NY Times archive. So what’s next?
Well anyone using Google maps has surely encountered slight issues with addresses on long rural roads, and densely packed city streets. Google relies on some distance algorithms and published city planning guidelines to determine approximately where apartment 221b is on Baker Street. Google’s latest approach is to eliminate the approximations, and to be able to say with 100% certainty just where an address is, and they are using you and I to collect that info. So when you get directions, Google can walk you right to the door. Next time you are asked to answer a Re-CAPTCHA you might see numbers instead of words, and just where are those numbers coming from? Street addresses! Addresses captured, but not yet understood by Google’s street View cameras. Although I love the idea that Google will finally stop sending my out-of-town friends and pizza boy2 miles down the road, I am curious where this technology will continue to go, and at what point privacy becomes a concern.