Why CAPTCHA Pictures Are So Unbearably Depressing

CAPTCHA images are never joyful vistas of human activity, full of Whitmanesque vigor. No, they're blurry, anonymous landscapes that possess a positively Soviet anomie.

Each cube here is a tone poem in melancholia. Looking at these leaden vistas of America makes you, slightly but noticeably, feel worse than you did before. [...]

These pictures! My god. They're simply ashudder with suspense and dread. That taxi in the middle frame: What dread cargo does it carry, to what wretched appointment? The bottom right photo looks like something you'd see plastered on a WANTED poster. And good grief, in the bottom left: What looming terror is casting that fuzzy, Lovecraftian shadow? [...]

This is why CAPTCHA photos are a nonstop brutalist slideshow of metal and concrete. It is as if someone took you on a tour of a lovely scenic town, but strapped you into horse blinders and forced you to stare only at fire hydrants. [...]

They weren't taken by humans, and they weren't taken for humans. They are by AI, for AI. They thus lack any sense of human composition or human audience. They are creations of utterly bloodless industrial logic. Google's CAPTCHA images demand you to look at the world the way an AI does.

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14 Responses:

  1. Dave Polaschek says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I always try to answer wrong at least once, just to feed the AIs some BS.

    • margaret says:

      you are training the machine that and all humans you are unreliable. i for one welcome our new robot overlords and answer promptly and correctly every time.

  2. saxmaniac says:

    This is amazingly funny for something you wouldn’t expect to be.

  3. thielges says:

    “ Google's CAPTCHA images demand you to look at the world the way an AI does”

    Naw, it’s the other way around. You get to train the network for free.

  4. Boldra says:

    It's also really disconcerting doing American captchas and being forced to categorize things the way Americans see them. Google translates "street sign" as "Verkehrsschild" in German, but the German word usually only refers to official instructions relevant to legally navigating the road - stop signs for example - not directions, street names or tourist information. And as an Australian, the American definition of "truck" is also disorienting, a lot of what you call "trucks" I would call "utes". And I'm amazed how inconsistently American fire hydrants seem to be marked! Are they yellow? Red? Flush? Raised? Get some standards, guys!

    • Jim says:

      Sorry, we've outsourced standards to the EU. You have to do it.

    • Grey Hodge says:

      The colors actually are standardized. Different colors mean different things. https://www.hkywater.org/education/i-didnt-know-that/fire-hydrant-colors

      • boldra says:

        Cool, it even mentions ISO!

      • apm74 says:

        The ones in my neighborhood are all universally painted silver whatever that means, if anything.

        I do remember in my childhood town they were painted yellow with red trim but there were scattered really fun ones that were painted to look like dalmatians wearing firefighter hats.

      • George Dorn says:

        There is a standard from the NFPA, but each municipality decides whether to follow it. It's becoming more common that they do - fire departments often have a say in it - but it's nowhere near universally followed.

      • andyjpb says:

        In the UK we just use numbers to denote the diameter of the water main in millimeters and the distance from the distance the hydrant is from the plate.

        See the last page of this for an example: https://www.essex-fire.gov.uk/_img/pics/pdf_1542106891.pdf

        (In the UK, fire hydrants are underground and marked with a yellow 'H' plate somewhere nearby.)

    • Dude says:

      That's good ol' globilisation for ya.

      A couple years ago, I had a copywriting/editing gig "translating" US vernacular to British and vice versa. I actually knew both vernaculars better than a few of my editors, so when it came to changing things, some were easy for me to explain ("truck" = "lorry") whilst others were tougher to explain (lots of departments and organisations just don't exist on both sides of the pond).

      Still, it seems as if Google's quest for US-centric globilisation continues apace.

  5. trepanne says:

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