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Humans! Tutor Computers And Robots In Your Spare Time

It may seem like a want ad from the future, but there are positions available now for humans to tutor computer systems in identifying common objects.

Consider the ESP Game, created by Luis von Ahn, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. The "game" tricks two gullible human beings into trying to guess what the other is thinking when looking at a particular image. The real intent of the game is to improve the ability of computers to perform Internet image search by generating descriptions of uncaptioned images.

New kinds of games are available, like Tag a Tune, that lets humans describe songs to computers, and Squigl, that encourages frail humans to trace the outlines of objects in photographs to help powerful computers.

Another version of this idea is Amazon's Mechanical Turk program, which provides a programmers API to let computers ask human beings to perform a task - like object identification - that computers are not very good at.

Computers love to digitize books - when a modern font is used with a clear graphic capture, that is. When it comes to older manuscripts, there is another CMU program that uses specialized CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart) called reCAPTCHAS to help computers perform optical character recognition on old books. The little word fragments are taken from books; the method is working - about one million words per day are being deciphered for CMU's book archiving project.


(CAPTCHA-based human-aided Optical Character Recognition)

As far as I know, the first person who suggested this general idea is Harry Harrison, who wrote about it in his 1956 story The Velvet Glove.

"... whenever a robot finds something it can't identify straight off... it puts whatever it is in the hopper outside your window. You give it a good look, check the list for the proper category if you're not sure, then press the right button and in she goes." An hour passed before he had his first identification to make. A robot stopped in mid-dump, ground its gears a moment, and then dropped a dead cat into Carl's hopper... Something heavy had dropped on the cat, reducing the lower part of its body to paper-thinness.

Castings... Cast Iron... Cats... There was the bin number. Nine.
(Read more about human-based object recognition)

Via Roland; read more about how CAPTCHAs help preserve books and more games with a purpose at Carnegie Mellon University.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/21/2008)

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