Computer Literacy Tests: Are You Human?

Websites often ask you to decipher a few wiggly letters. They're trying to find out if you're human or spamware

Peter J. Ahlberg for TIME

Every web surfer, in the course of his or her browsing, has been forced to stop and perform this weird little task: look at a picture of some wavy, ghostly, distorted letters and type them into a box. Sometimes you flub it and have to retype the letters, but otherwise you don't think about it much. That string of letters has a name; it's called a CAPTCHA. And it's a test. By correctly transcribing it, you have proved to the computer that you are a human being.

This electronic hoop you have to jump through was invented in 2000 by a...

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