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Watch How Computers Perform Optical Character Recognition

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Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is the key technology in scanning books, signs, and all other real-world texts into digital form. OCR is all about identifying a picture of written language (or set of letters, numbers, glyphs, you name it) and sorting out what specific characters are in there.

OCR is a hard computer science problem, though you wouldn't know it from its current pervasive presence in consumer software. Today, you can point a smartphone at a document, or a sign in a national park, and instantly get a pretty accurate OCR read-out...and even a translation. It has taken decades of research to reach this point.

Beyond the obvious problems—telling a lowercase "L" apart from the number "1," for instance—there are deep problems associated with OCR. For one thing, the system needs to figure out what font is in use. For another, it needs to sort out what language the writing is in, as that will radically affect the set of characters it can expect to see together. This gets especially weird when a single photo contains multiple fonts and languages. Fortunately, computer scientists are awesome.

In this Computerphile video, Professor Steve Simske (University of Nottingham) walks us through some of the key computer science challenges involved with OCR, showing common solutions by drawing them out on paper. Tune in and learn how this impressive technology really works:

A somewhat related challenge, also featuring Simske, is "security printing" and "crazy text." Check out this Computerphile video examining those computer science problems, for another peek into how computers see (and generate) text and imagery.

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Take a Look Inside the 1987 Consumer Electronics Show
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Since June 1967, the Consumer Electronics Show has provided a venue for tech companies to show off their hottest products for the upcoming year. It’s also become a way to measure the progression of technology over recent decades, as the video below shows.

According to Sploid, the footage was filmed by Art Vuolo at the Consumer Electronics Show held in Chicago in the summer of 1987. The 30-year-old tape chronicles a time when camcorders, VCRs, and “portable” TVs were considered cutting-edge gadgetry. As we know, it would only be a few decades until those items served more of a purpose as kitschy craft supplies than actual hardware.

After watching part one of Vuolo’s series, check out the other three videos from the event which include a Casio synth guitar and an early video phone.

[h/t Sploid]

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Wisconsin Software Company Will Microchip Its Employees
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Typically, pets—not people—are microchipped. But as NBC News reports, one Wisconsin-based company plans to become the first business in the country to offer the tiny implants to its employees.

Three Square Market (32M), a software design firm in River Falls, Wisconsin, will begin providing the chips starting August 1. The rice-sized implants—which cost around $300 each—will be implanted in the hands of staffers between the thumb and the forefinger, and will allow them to purchase vending-machine snacks, open secured doors, or log into their computers with the wave of a hand. The company says the chips are optional.

32M is partnering with Swedish-based BioHax International to install the chips, which were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004. The chips utilize electromagnetic fields to identify electronically stored data, and near-field communications, a technology that's used in contactless credit cards.

Fifty company members—including CEO Todd Westby—are expected to volunteer to receive the implants, according to a company statement. The company will foot the bill for the implants.

32M's microchipping program may sound unconventional, but the company—which owns machines that can use microchips—says it's simply riding the wave of the future.

"We see chip technology as the next evolution in payment systems, much like micro markets have steadily replaced vending machines," 32M's Westby said in the statement. "As a leader in micro market technology, it is important that 32M continues leading the way with advancements such as chip implants."

As microchipping becomes more common, Westby added, people will use the technology to shop, travel, and ride public transit.

The company says the chips are easily removable and can't be hacked or used to track recipients. However, some experts have argued the technology is an invasion of privacy, and that it could lead to heightened employee scrutiny.

"If most employees agree, it may become a workplace expectation," Vincent Conitzer, a computer science professor at Duke University, told NBC News. "Then, the next iteration of the technology allows some additional tracking functionality. And so it goes until employees are expected to implant something that allows them to be constantly monitored, even outside of work."

[h/t NBC News]

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