Friday, 31 August 2012

Captcha as a modern EVP

“Clearly robots would try to take over the world and make the entire human race subservient if they could get their evil metallic hands on the kind of software I buy”
The last time I had to test a Captcha I found it very difficult.
  • It killed our automation
  • It made our manual testing really slow
  • We had to tweak it to make it cope with the human ability to reinterpret “garbage in” so it would produce less “garbage out”, which made it less random
  • It was a third party thing which we had very little control over
Benefits:
  • It made registering on the site harder which was exactly what we wanted at a point in the company lifecycle when we were trying to increase the number of people registering on the site.
A win win situation for the technology team and the business team.
Recently, I tried to contact a company to buy their software, and like all companies they only want to answer queries from humans and not robots. Clearly robots would try to take over the world and make the entire human race subservient if they could get their evil metallic hands on the kind of software I buy. So such safeguards are required.
Sadly I, as a human, found that I might actually have some robotic blood somewhere in my lineage as I could not answer the Captcha. Some of it rendered out of the image, some of it (most of it) was a garbled jumble of pixels, that I’m pretty sure a genetic algorithm based pattern recognition system could have handled better than my brain.
For a fun test of your robotic nature, head over to http://www.google.com/recaptcha/learnmore and refresh the page a few times. How many did you get right? How robotic are you?
I had not used the audio part of a Captcha before, so I gave it a try, thinking it might be easier.
Nope, not easier for me.
No one would believe me if I made this stuff up. Lucky I gather evidence…

Warning the above video contains loud and spooky noises. (hmm, I should probably place the warning before the video, oh well, too late now)
And it struck me, that Captcha, when implemented as above, could be used as a supplement for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena).
EVP has been around for a long time, but hit the mainstream consciousness in the movie White Noise.
EVP to the skeptic seems like something where you listen to sound and free associate, and try to identify words. Much like hearing satanic messages when playing records backwards. And humans are really good at this. In fact, we love doing this stuff.
Try it. You love it, you know you do. Go crazy. Indulge yourself. Listen to some backmasking now, or some reverse speech.
We can make meaning out of the most useless and random junk.
So. Morals:
  1. When testing, be wary of this tendency to conjure meaning, where no meaning exists, because no meaning may exist.
  2. Be wary of being wary of this tendency, because meaning may exist.
  3. In short, “when testing, be wary”.

2 comments:

  1. This sort of thing is exactly why the Scientific Method is so useful when applied to software testing.

    Also was reminded of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T_jwq9ph8k

    ReplyDelete
  2. :) Thanks, for the comment. I enjoyed Michael Shermer's book.

    ReplyDelete