Many thanks to Dave Koelle of Charles River Analytics for alerting me to the new "CAPTCHA" feature on blogger.com. For those of you unfamiliar with the term (as I was a couple days ago), CAPTCHA stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart." And let me add that a "Turing test" is simply a way to tell computers and humans apart solely based on their behavior, not their body chemistry.
If you surf the net at all, you have probably already passed many CAPTCHAs by reading distorted text (as on the right) and re-typing it. Humans can read "gpidhr" easily but computers, including spam-bots, cannot. Hence I can re-open comments on Connectedness to everybody, provided you can make it past the CAPTCHA.
The really interesting thing about CAPTCHAs is that the boundary between human behavior and computer algorithm is in fact less of a boundary than it is an arms race. See the CAPTCHA project at Carnegie Mellon for one side of this arms race, and read this post by a certified spam-botter for a glimpse at the other side.
Which side of the arms race are you on? I guess most of us want to feel better than computers and protect ourselves from spam and so root for the home team. But hold that thought while you read this article, "Just Googling It Is Striking Fear Into Companies," from today's NY Times. The Internet now makes it so easy to find the best price, even Wal-Mart is nervous. Makes you want to cheer for the forces of the digital age, doesn't it?
As I reported here earlier, researchers are augmenting Google with social network methods, resulting in systems like "Outfoxed" that combine Google-rankings with personal factors-- like what do my trusted friends and colleagues have to say about my web query? That combination will be more than enough to keep the CAPTCHA crew working overtime for as long as they want to defend the ever-blurring boundary between human expertise and machine intelligence.