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Google Buys reCAPTCHA To Aid Book Digitization

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Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has purchased reCAPTCHA, a company that creates automated messages — or “captchas” — that users type to prove that they are not bots. Financial terms were not released. The words in reCaptcha’s captchas come from scanned copies of the NYT, so reCaptcha is using human inputs to improve “optical character recognition” — a technology that takes scanned images and translates them into text. Its accuracy is 99.1 percent, compared to 83.5 percent for optical character recognition on its own.

Google says it will use reCaptcha to improve its own scanning projects — in both books and newspapers — and also to improve “fraud and spam protection” across Google products. In a blog post announcing the news, Google also said that it would continue to support the third-party websites that are using reCaptcha’s technology, including Facebook, Ticketmaster, and Craigslist.

reCaptcha’s executive producer, Luis Von Ahn, is a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, and a winner of a MacArthur genius grant. The startup has six people on staff, several of whom also work at Carnegie Mellon. Von Ahn is staying at Carnegie Mellon but will also now work at Google’s engineering offices in Pittsburgh.