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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.

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WWF
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Animals
Watch an Antarctic Minke Whale Feed in a First-of-Its-Kind Video
WWF
WWF

New research from the World Wildlife Fund is giving us a rare glimpse into the world of the mysterious minke whale. The WWF worked with Australian Antarctic researchers to tag minke whales with cameras for the first time, watching where and how the animals feed.

The camera attaches to the whale's body with suction cups. In the case of the video below, the camera accidentally slid down the side of the minke whale's body, providing an unexpected look at the way its throat moves as it feeds.

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales, but they're still pretty substantial animals, growing 30 to 35 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. Unlike other baleen whales, though, they're small enough to maneuver in tight spaces like within sea ice, a helpful adaptation for living in Antarctic waters. They feed by lunging through the sea, gulping huge amounts of water along with krill and small fish, and then filtering the mix through their baleen.

The WWF video shows just how quickly the minke can process this treat-laden water. The whale could lunge, process, and lunge again every 10 seconds. "He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding," Ari Friedlaender, the lead scientist on the project, described in a press statement.

The video research, conducted under the International Whaling Commission's Southern Ocean Research Partnership, is part of WWF's efforts to protect critical feeding areas for whales in the region.

If that's not enough whale for you, you can also watch the full 13-minute research video below:

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iStock
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technology
AI Could Help Scientists Detect Earthquakes More Effectively
iStock
iStock

Thanks in part to the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, earthquakes are becoming more frequent in the U.S. Even though it doesn't fall on a fault line, Oklahoma, where gas and oil drilling activity doubled between 2010 and 2013, is now a major earthquake hot spot. As our landscape shifts (literally), our earthquake-detecting technology must evolve to keep up with it. Now, a team of researchers is changing the game with a new system that uses AI to identify seismic activity, Futurism reports.

The team, led by deep learning researcher Thibaut Perol, published the study detailing their new neural network in the journal Science Advances. Dubbed ConvNetQuake, it uses an algorithm to analyze the measurements of ground movements, a.k.a. seismograms, and determines which are small earthquakes and which are just noise. Seismic noise describes the vibrations that are almost constantly running through the ground, either due to wind, traffic, or other activity at surface level. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between noise and legitimate quakes, which is why most detection methods focus on medium and large earthquakes instead of smaller ones.

But better understanding natural and manmade earthquakes means studying them at every level. With ConvNetQuake, that could soon become a reality. After testing the system in Oklahoma, the team reports it detected 17 times more earthquakes than what was recorded by the Oklahoma Geological Survey earthquake catalog.

That level of performance is more than just good news for seismologists studying quakes caused by humans. The technology could be built into current earthquake detection methods set up to alert the public to dangerous disasters. California alone is home to 400 seismic stations waiting for "The Big One." On a smaller scale, there's an app that uses a smartphone's accelerometers to detect tremors and alert the user directly. If earthquake detection methods could sense big earthquakes right as they were beginning using AI, that could afford people more potentially life-saving moments to prepare.

[h/t Futurism]

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