CAPTCHA Variants: KittenAuth

Over the coming weeks, I'll highlight a few of the best (and weirdest) CAPTCHA systems available on the web. CAPTCHAs are those "type this word" or "answer this question" tests you see on many web forms -- they're there in an attempt to prove that the entity filling out the form is not a spambot.

The term CAPTCHA is an acronym for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart." (The subject of Turing tests deserves its own blog entry, but let's just summarize here by saying that such tests are designed to test human-style intelligence.) While most CAPTCHA systems are designed using scrambled text -- something that's easy for humans to decipher but hard for computers -- there are some interesting variants in the wild. Let's start with my favorite weird CAPTCHA system: KittenAuth.

Developed by programmer Oli Warner, the KittenAuth system presents a series of pictures of cute animals, and asks the user to click on all the kittens. Well, that's the simplest form -- the current version may ask you to pick out a different animal, so you may have to click on all the pandas or lambs -- this adds some fun to the game, and presumably prevents spammers from investing all their effort on kitten-detection software. Here's a screenshot of an example from Warner's contact form (it's not clickable):

I like KittenAuth because it's cute and actually kind of fun. I wouldn't want to use the system constantly (for example, every time I added a Facebook friend), but for occasional use it's a great idea -- and surprisingly hard for a spambot to crack. It's difficult for a computer because image recognition is both difficult and computationally expensive.

In future weeks I'll go in-depth on the ReCAPTCHA system used on this very blog, and other interesting variants. But in the meantime, we've noticed a lot of commenters finding bizarre and interesting things in the ReCAPTCHA boxes. For example, today adrienne wrote: "I love ReCaptcha: 'Philbin girl' this time." We even held a CAPTCHA Contest in April in which commenters made poetry out of the CAPTCHA text. But I thought I'd ask: what's the craziest CAPTCHA text you've seen? I just tried two at random, and got 'integrated ex' and 'tingle tempers.' This is art, people.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
E. A. Tilly, Library of Congress // Public Domain
The 19th Century Poet Who Predicted a 1970s Utopia
An electric airship departing Paris in 1883.
An electric airship departing Paris in 1883.
E. A. Tilly, Library of Congress // Public Domain

In 1870, John Collins dreamed of a future without cigarettes, crime, or currency inflation. The Quaker poet, teacher, and lithographer authored "1970: A Vision for the Coming Age," a 28-page-long poem that imagines what the world would be like a century later—or, as Collins poetically puts it, in "nineteen hundred and threescore and ten.”

The poem, recently spotlighted by The Public Domain Review, is a fanciful epic that follows a narrator as he travels in an airship from Collins’s native New Jersey to Europe, witnessing the wonders of a futuristic society.

In Collins’s imagination, the world of the future seamlessly adheres to his own Quaker leanings. He writes: “Suffice it to say, every thing that I saw / Was strictly conformed to one excellent law / That forbade all mankind to make or to use / Any goods that a Christian would ever refuse.” For him, that means no booze or bars, no advertising, no “vile trashy novels,” not even “ribbons hung flying around.” Needless to say, he wouldn’t have been prepared for Woodstock. In his version of 1970, everyone holds themselves to a high moral standard, no rules required. Children happily greet strangers on their way to school (“twas the custom of all, not enforced by a rule”) before hurrying on to ensure that they don’t waste any of their “precious, short study hours.”

It’s a society whose members are never sick or in pain, where doors don’t need locks and prisons don’t exist, where no one feels tempted to cheat, lie, or steal, and no one goes bankrupt. There is no homelessness. The only money is in the form of gold and silver, and inflation isn't an issue. Storms, fires, and floods are no longer, and air pollution has been eradicated.

While Collins’s sunny outlook might have been a little off-base, he did hint at some innovations that we’d recognize today. He describes international shipping, and comes decently close to predicting drone delivery—in his imagination, a woman in Boston asks a Cuban friend to send her some fruit that “in half an hour came, propelled through the air.” He kind of predicts CouchSurfing (or an extremely altruistic version of Airbnb), imagining that in the future, hotels wouldn't exist and kind strangers would just put you up in their homes for free. He dreams up undersea cables that could broadcast a kind of live video feed of musicians from around the world, playing in their homes, to a New York audience—basically a YouTube concert. He describes electric submarines (“iron vessels with fins—a submarine line, / propels by galvanic action alone / and made to explore ocean’s chambers unknown") and trains that run silently. He even describes climate change, albeit a much more appealing view of it than we’re experiencing now. In his world, “one perpetual spring had encircled the earth.”

Collins might be a little disappointed if he could have actually witnessed the world of 1970, which was far from the Christian utopia he hoped for. But he would have at least, presumably, really enjoyed plane rides.

You can read the whole thing here.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
NASA Has a Plan to Stop the Next Asteroid That Threatens Life on Earth
iStock
iStock

An asteroid colliding catastrophically with Earth within your lifetime is unlikely, but not out of the question. According to NASA, objects large enough to threaten civilization hit the planet once every few million years or so. Fortunately, NASA has a plan for dealing with the next big one when it does arrive, Forbes reports.

According to the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan [PDF] released by the White House on June 21, there are a few ways to handle an asteroid. The first is using a gravity tractor to pull it from its collision course. It may sound like something out of science fiction, but a gravity tractor would simply be a large spacecraft flying beside the asteroid and using its gravitational pull to nudge it one way or the other.

Another option would be to fly the spacecraft straight into the asteroid: The impact would hopefully be enough to alter the object's speed and trajectory. And if the asteroid is too massive to be stopped by a spacecraft, the final option is to go nuclear. A vehicle carrying a nuclear device would be launched at the space rock with the goal of either sending it in a different direction or breaking it up into smaller pieces.

Around 2021, NASA will test its plan to deflect an asteroid using a spacecraft, but even the most foolproof defense strategy will be worthless if we don’t see the asteroid coming. For that reason, the U.S. government will also be working on improving Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, the technology NASA uses to track asteroids. About 1500 NEOs are already detected each year, and thankfully, most of them go completely unnoticed by the public.

[h/t Forbes]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios