Friday, May 25, 2012

Early Vibe: Are you a human?

It is not often that I get a chance to talk with a security technology startup that is based in Detroit, but that is exactly where Are you a human? is headquartered. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me since my two best software engineers when I was a rookie supervisor, Mary S and Carol Y, where both University of Michigan graduates. Are you a human? (AYAH) shows a similar adeptness in tackling problems that affect lots of people. AYAH was founded to give us relief from those annoying CAPTCHAs used by web sites, blogs, and forums use to thwart spam entries that are generated by computers. We’ve all seen them – they are hard to read, annoying to dispense, and lead to a significant drop-off rate for those that view CAPTCHAs as too much trouble. Also, there seems to be an industry growing to offer CAPTCHA solutions to spammers to bypass the protection and to stay ahead of anti-CAPTCHA technology the puzzles get harder and harder for humans to read. I don’t even try to solve CAPTCHAs on my mobile devices any more.
The AYAH approach introduces object recognition, relationships between objects, and human response metrics in the form of a completing a simple game. I like the dynamic metrics part – where an object is grabbed, how long it takes to move it, where the object is dropped, etc. It is a pretty interesting concept to produce active challenges that are more difficult for computers to solve while being easier for humans – and isn’t that the whole idea?
There is always the business side, as customers will want AYAH to be successful to create more plays. I can see the company making money with customer games involving product placements, or gaining bonus payments by reducing drop-off rates from customers that switch from CAPTCHAs. Heck, a game that allows humans to whack an emoticon has to have value! The folks at AYAH will figure it out. When I was working with RSA SecurID, two factor authentication was defined as a combination of something you know, something you have, or something you are. We were thinking of something you are as a biometric – wished we had thought of it as “Are you a human?”