Annoyance, important security feature, inconvenient existential demand: however you feel being asked to prove you’re not a robot has become a daily occurrence for most of us, but we probably won’t miss it.
A new feature in upcoming versions of iOS and macOS, Apple’s operating systems for iPhones and PCs, promises to give “captchas” booting up once and for all. This technique called “automatic verification” will allow sites to verify that you are not a bot without you having to do anything at all.
Captchas – this is a “completely automated generic Turing test to tell computers and humans apart” – the little tests you sometimes see when you sign up on a website to help stop fraud.
It may ask you to identify all the traffic lights in an image, or type in some wobbling letters and numbers. If I get it wrong, it may ask you to start over, leading you to wonder if you really know what a traffic light is like – or whether you might be a robot after all.
“You probably don’t enjoy being interrupted by these guys,” said Apple’s Tommy Pooley. “I definitely don’t. The reason these experiments exist is to prevent fraudulent activity. If you run a server, you don’t want it to be overwhelmed by fraud. Some attempts to create accounts or purchase products come from legitimate users. But other attempts may be from attackers or bots.”
The company worked with Fastly and Cloudflare, two companies that operate at the infrastructure level for most of the public internet, to build the feature. It is based on the same kind of technology that it supports Apple’s efforts to replace passwords onlineIt works by allowing your device to send an encrypted statement confirming its use by a person to the website that requests it.
Although the service is linked to Apple’s iCloud network, the requesting site will not receive any personal information about the user or their devices.
While Apple was the first to push such technology to users themselves, Google used the basic idea, which helped develop the standard and built a similar system in Chrome. But Google’s release has so far focused on letting third parties build their own Captcha alternatives, rather than ending the technology entirely.
In fact, Google may even lose out on this shift: since the company bought a startup called reCaptcha in 2009, it has used human input from tests as part of its training data for large machine learning projects, asking people to help first copy scanned books and then use the responses To train its machine vision systems on road features in order to improve self-driving car projects.