Thursday August 27, 2020 |Notes

Are you a robot?

Anyone who has spent much time online has been faced with the question: Are you a robot? When logging into to accounts, CAPTCHA challenges pose the question along with sets of images, which require answers in a patterns recognized as human. The challenge isn't passed by necessarily getting the right answer and instead relies upon a multitude of clues to determine if the respondent is human.

Last year, The Verge published an in-depth piece on the challenges presented in designing a challenge to delineate between human and robots:

The problem with many of these tests isn’t necessarily that bots are too clever — it’s that humans suck at them. And it’s not that humans are dumb; it’s that humans are wildly diverse in language, culture, and experience. Once you get rid of all that stuff to make a test that any human can pass, without prior training or much thought, you’re left with brute tasks like image processing, exactly the thing a tailor-made AI is going to be good at.

The article goes on to explain how these tests are moving more to the background, because it's gotten more difficult to pose valid challenges as machine learning has improved:

Aaron Malenfant, the engineering lead on Google’s CAPTCHA team, says the move away from Turing tests is meant to sidestep the competition humans keep losing. “As people put more and more investment into machine learning, those sorts of challenges will have to get harder and harder for humans, and that’s particularly why we launched CAPTCHA V3, to get ahead of that curve.” Malenfant says that five to ten years from now, CAPTCHA challenges likely won’t be viable at all. Instead, much of the web will have a constant, secret Turing test running in the background.

Of course, this authentication challenge differs from another well-known login challenge, whereby the user must login with OTP or authentication app. Somewhat conversely, people must verify identify by entering a code sent to their smartphone from another automated action. It's hard to ignore the paradoxes of the two methods: one method to prove human qualities through imperfections, another by proving connectedness to machines.

If you are reading this, you are at least partially reliant upon robots. Robots are constantly working in the background enabling humans to function in the real life. There are few of us who could honestly get by without a robot constantly doing work for us, whether powering our smartphones, finding the right search results, or verifying identity. The barrier between robot and human is already difficult to pinpoint. That threshold was crossed long ago.

The question then shifts from 'are you a robot?' to 'are you a human?', which really implies, are you prone to consistently making mistakes and acting in inefficient, non-logical manners? It's the imperfections that prove humanity, and it's often misunderstood. Perfection isn't possible by humans, only well-managed robots. For now, access is generally granted to hose that prove humanity. That may not always be the case, and there are already sites that only allow robots, a test humans could never pass in reverse.