I am not a robot

Have you ever been on the Internet and came across a check box that says “I am not a robot”? Ever wonder why?

I am not a robot.

Have you ever been on the Internet and came across a check box that says “I am not a robot”? Ever wonder why?

You first have to go back to the original CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. They’re the squished-up, stretched and squiggled, colour-blotched collection of letters that often must be deciphered before sending an email, posting a comment or making a purchase.

It was invented in 2000 by Luis von Ahn and his team at Carnegie Mellon University. The whole point of the original distorted text was to stop spam on the Internet. For example, preventing scalpers from using a computer program that would buy every ticket of an upcoming show in a fraction of a second.

CAPTCHAs work because computers are not as good as humans at reading distorted text

It was then acquired by Google in September 2009. They decided to digitize the archives of the New York Times and all of Google’s books by scanning them and using optical character recognition (OCR) software to translate the words into digital text.

They would take words that were too hard for the computer to decipher, and upload them into the reCAPTCHA database. Going forward, instead of random distorted text, they would show words from books that computers couldn’t understand.

reCAPTCHA’s slogan was “Stop Spam, Read Books.” At one point, 100 million reCATCHAs were being read a day, which is the equivalent to 2.5 million books a year.

The issue with reCAPTCHAs and audio reCAPTCHAs is that they are not very accessible to those with visual or hearing impairments or dyslexia. Websites were also designed to solve reCAPTCHAs for you.


Google decided to change things. They got rid of the distorted text CAPTCHA and came up with the “I am a not a robot” option. When you click on it, it sends Google an http request with loads of useful information: your IP address, the way you move your mouse, your country, the time interval between different browser searches and other secret variables.

The criteria are then processed by a machine-learning risk analyst at Google. Most of the time, the information can tell the difference between a human and a robot. If the risk analyst is still unsure, a small percentage of users will need to complete a second test, which is usually an image reCAPTCHA, such as clicking on all the images with a store front. When you prove you’re a human once this way, the chances are the Google engine will remember and won’t require you to do the second test again.

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About the Author

Financial and Consumer Services Commission

We are New Brunswick’s financial and consumer services regulator. New Brunswick's Financial and Consumer Services Commission (FCNB) is responsible for the administration and enforcement of provincial legislation that regulates the following sectors: securities, insurance, pensions, credit unions, trust and loan companies, co-operatives, and a wide range of other consumer legislation. We are an arm's length, self-funded, independent Crown Corporation established by the provincial government on 1 July 2013. We are funded by the regulatory fees and assessments paid by the regulated sectors.