You know that annoying word verification process that makes it harder for spambots to plant their evil ads? A young professor at Carnegie Mellon has decided to use it for the common good, taking the original Captcha program and retooling it into "reCaptcha."
Whenever you log onto Twitter, Craiglist, Ticketmaster, Facebook and more, you are now faced with two words instead of one. The first is the original Captcha word, twisted so that machines cannot recognize it and mimic it. The second word will look like very old text—because that's exactly what it is. reCaptcha is using the power of the Internet to translate old text that scanners are unable to recognize. The New York Times and the Internet Archive are slowly being digitized, and we're helping by translating words that computers can't read.
The Optical Recognition Program cannot always translate what it sees, and humans are far more capable at recognizing patterns in letter shapes and word forms. So as a public service, which is free for anyone to use on their website, reCaptcha is archiving the past. This opens the door for all archived materials to eventually be digitized and thus available for public access via the Internet. Awesome potential, don't you think, for three seconds of your time.