Google’s Street View Software Unravels CAPTCHAs

CAPTCHAs, those visual jumbles of numbers and letters, have been used to separate the humans from the bots because software couldn't read visuals all that well. Now, Google has created software for its Street View cars to read street numbers in its images -- and may have overturned the value of CAPTCHAs in the process.

In a post Wednesday on the Google Online Security Blog, the company's reCAPTCHA Product Manager Vinay Shet noted that the technology finds and reads street numbers in Street View imagery, and then correlates those numbers with existing addresses so that they can be shown on Google Maps. The software has been described in a scientific paper presented at the International Conference on Learning Representations 2014. It is able to detect and read difficult numbers with a 90 percent accuracy, which can reach 96 percent in some cases.

Street View obviously needs such rigorous software if the millions of recorded street addresses are going to be available through Google Maps without manual tagging. Weather conditions, varying quality in street numbers and signs, and lighting conditions also add to the difficulty of the problem.

99 Percent Accuracy

To accomplish this task, Google brings together the three main components of such visual interpretation -- localization, segmentation and recognition -- through the use of a neural network that is optimized for image recognition.

CAPTCHAs have been used for longer than a decade to prevent automated software from conducting transactions on Web sites, but Shet says the Street View technology can decipher the "hardest distorted text puzzles" with more than 99 percent accuracy.

In fact, according to various anecdotal reports on the Web, this accuracy rate is now far higher than what many humans can achieve in trying to figure out the distorted and twisted text. And, since accurately reading street numbers is a...

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