Free labor fueling Google?s growth

oogle owes me money.

As you probably know, Google is the Internet search engine giant that is determined to stick its nose into every industry it possibly can. Maps, smartphones, calendars, social media, computers, apps, music, videos…. The list goes on.

And while each of Google?s products and services are valuable?if not ubiquitous?there?s one project that I find particularly interesting: the Google Books Library Project.

This is where Google photographically scans each and every book from the world?s largest libraries, digitizes the texts using ?optical character recognition? software, and makes them searchable and available for the general public.

Or, in Google?s words, ?to archive human knowledge and to make information more accessible to the world.?

Yes. Now take me to your mothership.

OK, it?s a nice idea really, and with modern technology it?s fairly easy for computers to decipher clearly printed texts and actually read the document.

But there are also documents with really bad printing that Google?s computers can?t read. So someone had the bright idea to enslave the unsuspecting general public into translating this garbled print.

Let?s switch topics briefly.

If you spend any time on the Internet, at one time or another you?ve probably filled out some sort of form. But before you can submit it, you must retype a couple of distorted words.

That?s called a CAPTCHA, which is a way for the computer to tell if you?re a real person, or if you?re simply another computer that?s trying to generate spam. (Not the meat substitute.)

Since no computer is (currently) able to read distorted text accurately, your ability to do so proves you breathe through two nostrils and not through a small vent on the back of a metal terminal.

And this is where my bunny trail begins to make sense: Google, in its infinite quest for world domination, figured out how to harness this human effort to solve its own problem.

The end product is reCAPTCHA, a free service that Google offers to Web programmers to help prevent spam. It displays two words: one that a computer has already accurately deciphered?a control word?and a word that is so skewed, blotchy and twisted it looks extraterrestrial.

If you correctly identify the first word, you?re deemed human. (Congratulations!) Then, when you identify the second word, the computer assumes you?ve done so correctly and lets you through.

So what you?ve effectively done is give Google free labor.

According to the reCAPTCHA website, about 200 million of these are done every single day, with about 10 seconds being spent on each one. If my calculations are right, that?s more than 23,000 day?s worth of proofreading being done every 24 hours for free!

Well for me, the jig has flown the coop and the rooster is up. I?m done slaving way for Google without any compensation.

Given the amount of work I do on computers, I estimate I?ve done at least 520 of these reCAPTCHAs in the last decade.

Supposing an acceptable proofreader?s fee is seven cents per word, Google owes me $36.40. I?m going to send them a bill, and I suggest you do the same.

Just make sure it?s legible; you?ll probably end up deciphering it for them if it isn?t.