A few posts ago I wrote about how a technique called the "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart" (more commonly abbreviated to "CAPTCHA") has been, to all intents and purposes, broken by Vicarious, a San Francisco startup specializing in artificial intelligence.
While this breakthrough has yet to impact the Web in any serious way it eventually wil. Even if CAPTCHA hadn't been outsmarted by AI the technique is doomed to fail due to cheap human labor. So-called CAPTCHA farms such as BeatCaptchas, BypassCaptcha, and RUMOLA (which also offers a plugin for browsers!) provide bulk solving of CAPTCHAs using banks of low-paid workers in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. These companies will solve a CAPTCHA challenge for less than one cent!
I subsequently wrote another column about a potential alternative to CAPTCHA called Keypic but I later discovered that the founders of the company had been, shall we say, economical with the truth (their web site still has the same bogus testimonials and stats updating mechanism as when I wrote about them almost a month ago). That behavior would be a problem for anyone who might care about the integrity of their service providers.
Another provider of a CAPTCHA alternative, called Are You a Human (AYH) recently got in touch and their approach, named PlayThru, very cleverly "gamifies" the challenge. For example, one Playthru test displays aliens and various space objects floating around and you're asked to drag and drop the aliens onto a planet in the same scene. Another example asks you to place food objects into the refrigerator.
An Are You Human Plythru game
Not only does the user have to parse and do whatever is requested to pass the test, they also have to do the task in a human manner, AYH's backend monitors how the task is carried out and can detect non-human patterns of interaction.
According to AYH, Playthru increases conversion by over 40%, significantly reduces sign up time, can more or less eliminate spam, and solves the problem that drop off rates for CAPTCHAs on mobile devices which are about five times higher than on desktops. Playthru, which is free, can also be branded as an ad unit with profit sharing between the hosting site and AYH.
AYH have a fairly large library of games you can deploy, some of which look like elegant problems to solve while others have a cartoonish, computer game look. My only reservation is that sites with a very sophisticated look and feel may have trouble integrating Playthru games and at the same time preserving their visual identity.
That said, Playtru is a brilliant idea and a huge improvement over all of the other ways I've seen for determining whether a user is a human or otherwise.