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Why do online CAPTCHA boxes show traffic pictures?

Have you ever been searching the Internet and had your browsing session interrupted by a security CAPTCHA? The security CAPTCHA usually prompts you to click on images of traffic lights, stop signs, or buses. They may also ask you to click on cars, trucks, or other driving-related images. The reason for this is less about automotive images and relates more to the smart car tech industry.

CAPTCHA is an abbreviation for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart.” CAPTCHA was first released in 2007 and was created by a collaboration of computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. In 2009 Google snatched the idea and incorporated it into specific websites. CAPTCHA prompts typically appear when you need to make a purchase, post a comment, or register an account. These security measures are meant to weed out the bots from the real users. These tests usually require the user to identify vehicles and road signs accurately. The CAPTCHA test weeds out bots because each experiment takes a specific skill that only a human can pass.  Google saw that these tests could benefit both parties involved. The website could ensure that the information being entered is from a human, and users can transcribe the data from the images for other technological advances. 

In the past, CAPTCHA text involved interpreting distorted words, and that data was used to help improve Google’s Optical Character Recognition technology for their digitized paper-based text. In 2012, Google started snippets of photos from Google Street View.  By 2014, the CAPTCHA system was primarily focused on training AI. Google has mentioned that by this time, they used CAPTCHA to teach self-driving cars, such as the new rideshare Waymo vehicles. Google uses images to train their AI because it’s shown to improve Google Maps results, photo libraries, and Google Image Search results.

While CAPTCHAS are certainly annoying & time-consuming, each completed one helps the roads become a bit safer. Your time isn’t being wasted, but put to good use by Google. And with the dangers of bots & viruses, CAPTCHA helps prevent bot access to some of the website’s most critical pages.