We are not surprised anymore when a machine asks us to qualify ourselves as humans: this happens almost every day while we move around the web. Captchas (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) – distorted pseudo-words that we’re supposed to decipher to be allowed to enter into the system – have become a familiar feature of our on-line experience: forestwom, dersildeum, pridsonch, substsman, hello there!

ReCaptcha is moving this a step forward, trying to make use of all these human deciphering efforts that would be otherwise wasted. By typing a reCaptcha, every user contributes their bit to the digitization of books, newspapers and old radio transmissions. The system (like Google’s audio Captchas) tries to be accessible to blind readers, providing them with alternative audio tests. These come in the form of fascinating – albeit hardly comprehensible at times – low-fi voices, pronouncing a sequence of numbers over a background of radio noise and conversations played backwards, somewhat close to The Beatles’ Revolution number 9.

I can’t get tired of them; they make me feel like I’m catching fragments of a message from outer space, a message I will never get hold of. If you want to have a go try to set up an account at reCaptcha or Google and click on the audio or wheelchair (?) icon.

Or listen here:

As the first generation of audio Captchas can be easily cracked with speech recognition software, the new audio reCaptchas are now taken from old radio shows that could not be automatically digitized.

Getting back to visual Captchas, Jeremy Jansen, a student at the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem, has made a series of posters out of them, transforming the most ephemeral bits of communication into a permanent item, almost a statement.