Why CAPTCHA Pictures Are So Unbearably Depressing
September 8, 2021 9:33 AM   Subscribe

The six reasons CAPTCHA pictures make you feel like crap. [SL Medium / Archive]
posted by ellieBOA (51 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sunken         CAPTCHA
 R’lyeh   🤝     photos
    “the angles are
        all wrong”
posted by acb at 9:50 AM on September 8 [8 favorites]


Select all squares with a nameless horror hiding just behind the walls of time.
posted by logicpunk at 9:57 AM on September 8 [13 favorites]


Another issue is that all the CAPTCHA scenes are American. Which means the road furniture is just plain wrong to British eyes: we don't have US-style fire hydrants, our traffic lights look different, we don't have US-style crosswalks (would US viewers even recognize a Pelican Crossing, a Puffin Crossing, or a Belisha Beacon?), and our parking meters are again something else.

So hey, normative national assumptions at work again.
posted by cstross at 10:01 AM on September 8 [48 favorites]


I swear I saw one of these that was one of those weirdly-distorted AI-generated pictures of a motorcycle. I wish I took a screenshot now, because I haven't seen anything like that since.
posted by Ampersand692 at 10:08 AM on September 8


Also if you're autistic you find yourself going into an anxious spiral about what the right answer is - when it says 'bikes' does it just mean motorbikes? Do mopeds count? Do these two pixels of a tyre poking into the frame count as a 'bike' or not? If it asks for 'traffic lights', and I'm not sure if that blocky thing is a traffic light or a speed camera, am I bad if I get it wrong?
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 10:11 AM on September 8 [41 favorites]


Even the word CAPTCHA sounds like CAPTURE YA.
posted by hypnogogue at 10:11 AM on September 8


Roko's Basilisk is going to have fun with the CAPTCHA people.
posted by chavenet at 10:16 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


If the CAPTCHAs are indeed required to teach self driving AIs and it requires so many years of data not making them region specific seems like a pretty big oversight.
posted by Mitheral at 10:18 AM on September 8 [8 favorites]


So hey, normative national assumptions at work again.

Most definitely.

Also...

Inaccessibility of CAPTCHA: Alternatives to Visual Turing Tests on the Web:

Whenever an interactive CAPTCHA is implemented, a variety of alternative challenges must be made available to engage different sensory and cognitive capabilities of the user in order that the user can choose an approach that best fits their abilities. We humans possess a variety of intellectual strengths and weaknesses. To fail to offer a variety of challenges is to ignore this simple truth.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:20 AM on September 8 [7 favorites]


A CAPTCHA will give me the false illusion that I am not a bot.

But months of watching my own Overwatch replays leads to only one, incontrovertible, truth: I am a bot.
posted by Groundhog Week at 10:25 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Google engineers: prove you're a human by selecting these common objects.

Also Google engineers: sorry, our machines have told us those are motorcycles even though they're clearly bicycles. Crosscheck failed - guess you're not a human!

I prefer the captchas that make me click to rotate a rhinoceros until it's upright, then tell me "Good" based on how long it took me. I'm not sure if faster or slower is better...
posted by sysinfo at 10:26 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


The one that irritates me is the single, divided-up image where you're supposed to identify frames containing signs or traffic lights, or whatever.

Are you supposed to select only the boxes that are mostly sign? Are you supposed to select the ones that just have a little bit of a sign in one corner, or along an edge? It doesn't say. As someone who designs UIs for their job, this makes my brain itch.
posted by pipeski at 10:30 AM on September 8 [26 favorites]


Also Google engineers: sorry, our machines have told us those are motorcycles even though they're clearly bicycles.

It's more insidious than this. It's really "sorry, other people, trying to guess what everyone else thinks are motorcycles, told us those are motorcycles even though they're clearly bicycles."

It's all about what other people said, which is influenced by what people think other people will say. It's a vicious cycle.
posted by primethyme at 10:30 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I feel like I'm either living very right or very wrong, but I almost never encounter any CAPTCHAs, or certainly not in enough volume that they have an emotional impact. Where is it that people are spending hours of their days encountering these???
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:32 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


Dividing images up by lines and spaces: that's what comics do.
posted by doctornemo at 10:34 AM on September 8


Here's my question: if the CAPTCHAs are being used to train self-driving AIs to recognize, e.g., traffic lights, fire hydrants, palm trees....than isn't it surely also going to be possible to port that training data over to the bots that these CAPTCHAs are supposed to be keeping out? Just seems to me that if you can teach a car to recognize a fire hydrant, you can teach a spambot to recognize a fire hydrant, thus CAPTCHAs are really sowing the seeds of their own inevitable destruction.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:36 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


primethyme: "It's a vicious cycle."

But is it a vicious bicycle, or a vicious motorcycle?!
posted by chavenet at 10:43 AM on September 8 [24 favorites]


Just seems to me that if you can teach a car to recognize a fire hydrant, you can teach a spambot to recognize a fire hydrant, thus CAPTCHAs are really sowing the seeds of their own inevitable destruction.

And when we get to that point, we'll start training against some other dataset. That was the point of the reCaptcha system (when we had to type in the distorted text): one of the images was some old print that needed to be OCR'd, and the other was generated by the computer. Now OCR nets are so good that they don't need that kind of a check anymore, so it's on to traffic data for the self-driving cars we'll never actually have.

Eventually we'll move on to something else--either the simple "time to click" box or, I dunno, identifying galaxies or something that will make it easier to make mRNA vaccines for things.
posted by thecaddy at 10:55 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


The one that irritates me is the single, divided-up image where you're supposed to identify frames containing signs or traffic lights, or whatever.

Yes. Also the technically correct answer is almost always "none of the above", because they'll ask for squares with bikes in them, but all of the squares have at most one bike...

You'd think pedantry would be the ultimate sign of humanity, but no.
posted by trig at 10:55 AM on September 8 [6 favorites]


Eventually we'll move on to something else--either the simple "time to click" box or, I dunno, identifying galaxies or something that will make it easier to make mRNA vaccines for things.

Or, at the other end of the dystopian spectrum, "select the people who look trustworthy enough to qualify for a loan."
posted by trig at 10:58 AM on September 8 [13 favorites]


Self-driving AI is worried about recognizing things in the built environment

I might enjoy training a weeding-harvesting AI. But you couldn’t expect a random person to do it, especially out of their biome.
posted by clew at 11:13 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I know that the AIs can read text now, but I miss the Cult of Inglip and all the wonderful nonsense words that came with it.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:29 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


But is it a vicious bicycle, or a vicious motorcycle?!

I'm just glad it's not viscous.
posted by aramaic at 11:44 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


Oblig xkcd. (m.xkcd.com offers click-to-alt-text.)
posted by k3ninho at 11:47 AM on September 8 [5 favorites]


Also, this xkcd.
posted by The Half Language Plant at 12:07 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


(Before we continue this conversation)
(I just have to make sure you're not a robot)
(Here, which one of these pictures have buses?)
(Robots will never be able to figure out buses)
posted by BrashTech at 1:25 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


Also, puddlemunch...
posted by rozcakj at 1:30 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Eventually we'll move on to something else--either the simple "time to click" box or, I dunno, identifying galaxies or something that will make it easier to make mRNA vaccines for things.

Problem being "There is a considerable overlap between the intelligence of the smartest bears and the dumbest tourists." At some point Russia bot farms will be able to defeat CAPTCHA with bears and the whole system will collapse.
posted by Mitheral at 2:15 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


Where is it that people are spending hours of their days encountering these???

If you use a VPN you get them ALL THE TIME.
posted by not_the_water at 3:03 PM on September 8 [7 favorites]


CAPTCHAS in the future
posted by lalochezia at 4:34 PM on September 8


I'm the sort of person who relies on visual information as a last resort. I've failed to recognize people because they weren't wearing their glasses. I cannot say with any certainty the exterior color of any buildings I frequent (or used to frequent). When people give me driving directions based on landmarks, I feel panic, followed by despair if they can't tell me street names or coordinates.

CAPTCHAs are like all of those things at once, combined with a damn field sobriety test.
posted by armeowda at 4:36 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


I... kind of enjoy them? Like, I never get them wrong, so it's just like this super simple little picture game with zero stakes. But I hated hated HATED the text ones. All these backwards ass, swirly letters, and I never got it right. I don't know how many times I got locked out for not being human, because I couldn't tell if that squiggle was a C or an L.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:38 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Are you supposed to select only the boxes that are mostly sign? Are you supposed to select the ones that just have a little bit of a sign in one corner, or along an edge? It doesn't say.

I have a suspicion that it doesn't really matter. Kind of like the "I'm not a robot" checkbox. They are looking at mouse movement patterns or some such as much as anything. I also suspect that they just know you and your computer well. You're in their 'base. So they start off already 98% sure you're not a bot.
posted by hypnogogue at 6:00 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I have a suspicion that it doesn't really matter. Kind of like the "I'm not a robot" checkbox. They are looking at mouse movement patterns or some such as much as anything. I also suspect that they just know you and your computer well. You're in their 'base. So they start off already 98% sure you're not a bot.

Well...tell that to the sites that present CAPTCHAs where the image tiles keep changing while you're checking them off. And then, usually not satisfied, make you 'solve' one or more additional CAPTCHAs before you can proceed.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 6:53 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


Someone posted this bugs CAPTCHA in work Slack the other day. Shockingly it was in the #nerds channel.
posted by bendy at 9:51 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


Nothing about this resonated with me. Of the many things I hate about big tech and algorithmic capitalism... CAPTCHAs are not among them. Being presented with some slightly boring, unartistic images to click on doesn't depress me, but the fact that someone wrote this, evidently in earnest:
There's also something kind of violent and vivisectionist about the grids.
That depresses me. I would rather click a thousand CAPTCHAs to train computer vision algorithms in exchange for the free services that big tech companies provide than have to stare at bullshit ads for crap I don't want for the same thing. Of course, thanks to the miracle of algorithmic capitalism, we don't have to choose -- we get both!
posted by biogeo at 9:53 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


Another issue is that all the CAPTCHA scenes are American.

I can't recall what it was, maybe parking meters, but I have been blocked out of things because I don't know what American parking meters (maybe) look like. I barely know what Australian ones look like, because I rarely drive.

Also is a crosswalk any pedestrian crossing, or specifically a zebra crossing? IDK.
posted by pompomtom at 9:54 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


Two memorable CAPTCHA interactions at the library recently:

Patron: Am I supposed to click "I'm not a robot?"
Me: Well...are you a robot?
Patron: Haha. No. But that's what a robot would say.

Patron: What are these pictures for? How do you even...is this a thing people have to do all the time?
Me: Yeah, they make you do it so they can catch the other people who make programs that work automatically and mess up the websites. It's super annoying.
Patron: Wow. Also you had better check my work because with this fake hip, I'm not NOT a robot.
Me: (laughing) You know what they use these for?
Patron: Other than preventing robots for signing up for senior housing subsidies?
Me: They use them to train self-driving cars.
Patron: Well, God help us!
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:44 PM on September 8 [14 favorites]


An excellent talk on this very subject by Job at a recent conference.
posted by lawrencium at 11:41 PM on September 8


Surely by now we have all watched enough American films/TV to know that school buses are really yellow and so on.
posted by acb at 1:07 AM on September 9


philosophical CAPTCHAS
posted by emmling at 1:33 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


CAPTCHAS are depressing because they nearly always feature photos of some bleak automotive hellscape in the United States. It's as if we don't get visually assaulted by that crap enough in our day-to-day lives as it is.
posted by drstrangelove at 4:07 AM on September 9 [5 favorites]


sysinfo: “Also Google engineers: sorry, our machines have told us those are motorcycles even though they're clearly bicycles. Crosscheck failed - guess you're not a human!”
I was so annoyed by one I ran into yesterday that required me to identify a mailbox as a parking meter that I nearly aborted the transaction I was in the middle of.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:31 AM on September 9


Laugh all you want, this is how we discovered that my MIL is a robot.
posted by amanda at 8:11 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


Has nobody linked the amazing Stevie Martin video on this? Enjoy!
posted by amanda at 8:13 AM on September 9 [3 favorites]


In "Klara and the Sun", the titular AI regularly refers to boxes in her vision, as in 'I found the surroundings settling into order. The waterfall no longer took up so many boxes, and I watched children and their AFs passing easily from one box to another with barely any interruption.'

I wonder if Kazuo Ishiguro got the inspiration from doing CAPTCHAs.
posted by of strange foe at 8:28 AM on September 9


Has nobody linked the amazing Stevie Martin video on this? Enjoy !

That was extremely accurate!


While we're at it, why am I being asked to identify chimneys lately? Who needs this information - drone companies? Reindeer?

(How does the captcha industry work, anyway? Which compan(ies) are reaping the results? Should we be able to know who's benefiting, and have the option of opting out of contributing our work to a given company (besides giving up our ability to access often non-optional stuff)? Are there regulations around what problems are acceptable - would "detect the speed trap" or "find the undercover officer" be allowed? Do ADA-type regulations apply? Do we qualify for any worker protections based on our labor? At what level of frequency or difficulty do these challenges start to qualify as harassment or unreasonable obstacles to access?)
posted by trig at 8:38 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


trig: While we're at it, why am I being asked to identify chimneys lately? Who needs this information - drone companies? Reindeer?

Probably it's being used by the Restoration-era English government to assess the Chimney Tax.
posted by giltay at 12:29 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


I'd guess that someone wants to identify chimneys in order to label certain addresses as potentially having fireplaces, which information could be sold to insurance companies. In theory they should know this already from public records and such but maybe there's a market for that.
posted by biogeo at 7:00 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


With the famous magritte painting.. "select all squares with a pipe"..
posted by DreamerFi at 12:06 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Regular CAPTCHA images are weird enough, but lately I've been noticing they've been using them to help train neural network image classifiers. So you're asked to identify which pictures show a plane or a bus like normal, but the "correct" answers are all blurry, indistinct impressions of a plane or a bus dreamed up by an AI. At least they're not using people yet.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:06 PM on September 23


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