A start-up has claimed a breakthrough in artificial intelligence (AI) with the development of software that can "break" CAPTCHA tests. This, it claims, can fool websites into thinking that it is human.
San Francisco, California-based Vicarious, which specialises in developing AI software, has announced that its algorithms are capable of deciphering the combination of distorted text and numbers used in CAPTCHAs by many websites to determine whether the user inputting the password or search is actually human.
The company claims that the Vicarious AI has a success rate of more than 90 per cent with cracking the CAPTCHAs of websites including Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Captcha.com - something that they claim renders the random text and numeral based systems ineffective in determining whether a user is human or a computer.
"Recent AI systems, like IBM's Watson, and deep neural networks rely on brute force: connecting massive computing power to massive datasets," said Vicarious co-founder D Scott Phoenix.
"This is the first time this distinctively human act of perception has been achieved, and it uses relatively minuscule amounts of data and computing power. The Vicarious algorithms achieve a level of effectiveness and efficiency much closer to actual human brains."
"Understanding how the brain creates intelligence is the ultimate scientific challenge," added Vicarious co-founder Dr. Dileep George.
"Vicarious has a long-term strategy for developing human-level artificial intelligence, and it starts with building a brain-like vision system. Modern CAPTCHAs provide a snapshot of the challenges of visual perception, and solving those in a general way required us to understand how the brain does it."
Standing for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart," CAPTCHA is based on one of the standards set by British computer science Alan Turing in the 1950s. The idea behind it is that a computer can only be defined as truly intelligent if its activities are deemed indistinguishable from those of a human.
However, the US start-up hasn't submitted a paper describing its methodology to an academic journal yet, making it difficult for experts outside Vicarious to properly validate and examine its claims.
The lack of academic evidence, aside from a video demonstration on vicarious.com, for now leaves some computer scientists unimpressed.
"CAPTCHAs have been around since 2000, and since 2003 there have been stories every six months claiming that computers can break them," Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon University and a co-developer of CAPTCHAs told Reuters.
"Even if it happens with letters, CAPTCHAs will use something else, like pictures, that only humans can identify against a distorting background," he added.
Von Ahn was also a founder of start-up reCAPTCHA, which he sold to Google in 2009.