2228: Machine Learning Captcha

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Machine Learning Captcha
More likely: Click on all the pictures of people who appear disloyal to [name of company or government]
Title text: More likely: Click on all the pictures of people who appear disloyal to [name of company or government]


A lot of websites have problems with spambots, which are automated entities created in order to log onto a website and spam or otherwise wreak havoc upon it. To guard against this eventuality, websites have implemented an invention created by computer scientist Luis von Ahn: Completely Automated Public Turing tests to tell Computers and Humans Apart, or CAPTCHAs, a challenge used to prove the user is a human and not an automated program. A typical CAPTCHA might distort a random sequence of letters and numbers and put it in a strange and/or mixed font and ask a user to type it, or it might show a set of pictures and ask the user which ones contain fire hydrants; these tasks are meant to be easy for humans but obscenely difficult for computers. CAPTCHAs are a recurring theme on xkcd.

CAPTCHAs run by Google are also used to train artificial intelligences to get better at these difficult tasks, such as reading poorly-scanned text or identifying objects of interest on the road (the latter being the subject of 1897: Self Driving).

This comic jokes about a malicious CAPTCHA which is being used to train an AI to dominate the world. In order to prevent people from taking shelter, the AI uses the CAPTCHA to ask humans like Cueball to tell it places where they would hide. The implication is that during a robot uprising, the AI, on the side of the robots, would then be able to track down humans much more easily. The choices presented are (left to right, top to bottom):

Sometimes, the best (or least-worst) response to a disaster is to "shelter in place" until the danger is passed, rather than risk getting caught in the open or in traffic. This is commonly advised in response to biological, chemical, or radiological hazards, or in the case of a violent act committed in the community. If the robot uprising is localized, then sheltering at home would be a fine response, because traveling to the other locations would increase the risk of being spotted and attacked by self-driving cars or aerial drones. On the other hand, most homes contain a multitude of internet-connected devices, some of which may control vital electrical or heating systems, so if the robot uprising is widespread, then the home would not be a safe shelter.
Tree or forest
If there is a robot uprising, then traveling to a forest or other nature reserve, far away from developed cities and towns, would reduce the risk of being near a hostile piece of technology. However, it also comes with limited resources for sustaining human life, unless the forest abuts meadows or farmland.
Bunker or bomb shelter
If the robot uprising includes the use of weapons of mass destruction (as in the Terminator franchise, or as was threatened in WarGames), then only a hardened military structure is likely to survive.
Cars offer some shelter and, more importantly, mobility in one convenient package. Most families own at least one, and they are widespread in human-occupied areas, so even if the car is not as suitable as a long-term shelter (depending on how the road and gasoline/power networks survive the uprising) it makes a fine first step in evacuating to a more permanent hiding place — at least until it becomes a more obvious target for either the hostile machines or fellow escapees who desire it for themselves. This is of course assuming that the car is not self-driving and that hostile self-driving cars are not widespread.
Cities offer thorough selections of supplies and tools that may be harder to come by in more rural areas, but they are also home to lots of robots and automated systems that may participate in the uprising, not to mention humans who may be prime targets for the machines. It may be necessary to visit the city to stock up on supplies in a post-apocalyptic scenario, but in the early stages of a robot uprising, it is best to leave them as quickly as possible.
The sidewalk is exposed and presumably falls within a built-up area that is readily accessible to the machines; it is not at all suitable as shelter.
The log with a board leaning on it is an example of an improvised shelter. Such a shelter could be constructed anywhere with local materials, and would not be marked on any map known to the robots, which are both positives for surviving the onset of the uprising. However, it is lacking in insulation and protection, which makes it less suitable for longer stays.
Only a very young and/or small infant could fit in this mailbox. This is not a viable shelter. Even if you just so happened to be an infant, air supply would be very limited, and within several minutes you would become unconscious.[actual citation needed]
A hole in the ground
Like the improvised shelter, this option can be made almost anywhere and is easy to camouflage, and it offers additional insulation from weather and weapons of mass destruction. It's a fine option if you happen to already have one or know where to find one, but it will be difficult to create a suitable one after the uprising begins.

Some of these choices may be Cow Tools, that is, presented not as serious options but to be funny because they are nonsensical.

The title text imagines a different malicious CAPTCHA which Randall says is "more likely" than the robot-uprising scenario, in which a company or government asks users to identify "disloyal" members of society. Presumably the company or government would then use this information to eliminate such "disloyal" members, either by firing them (company) or jailing, expelling, or executing them (government). This follows a theme of previous comic strips (e.g. 1968: Robot Future) in which Randall expresses that he is more concerned about humans using AI for evil ends than he is about AI being evil in itself.


[Cueball is sitting in an office chair at his desk with one hand in his lap and the other poised over the keyboard of his computer. A zigzag line is drawn from a starburst on the computer screen going above the computer to where it is shown what is displayed on the screen. At the top there is the following text:]
Computer: To prove you're a human, click on all the photos that show places you would run for shelter during a robot uprising.
[Below the text there are nine images arranged in a 3 by 3 square. In reading order they are: A house, possibly with an open carport; a large tree with two trees in the background; a bunker/bomb shelter; a car; a city skyline with several sky scrapers; a sidewalk with road on the left, grass on the right; a log with a board leaning up on the log; a mailbox; and a hole in the ground.]

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Seems remarkably similar to this comic. Is he running out of ideas? 00:33, 14 November 2019 (UTC)

I don't see much connection, other than them both being about CAPTCHAs.--GoldNinja (talk) 00:54, 14 November 2019 (UTC)
agree GoldNinja the first is about captchas getting freework done, the second is about that work having potentially malicious consequences Boatster (talk) 04:50, 14 November 2019 (UTC)
I agree that Randall uses a similar idea, but he uses it in two very different scenarios. The first is a bit scary as it relies on somopne using this captcha before the cat crashes, but this comic is much more sinister, especially the title text. --Kynde (talk) 09:10, 14 November 2019 (UTC)
I see you're using the car --> cat browser script (1288)... I approve.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:08, 15 November 2019 (UTC)
Actually, I agree on the similarity, both are about CAPTCHAs being used for nefarious purposes other than the supposed intent of identifying humans vs. bots (this explanation is the first I hear that Google openly uses CAPTCHAs to train AI, is that actually confirmed? If I ever saw a Google CAPTCHA I'd make sure not to solve it, LOL!). Just that 1897 is more mildly nefarious, just asking something a self-driving car should already know. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:39, 16 November 2019 (UTC)

A note: 2227 isn't connecting to 2228 via the Next button; has this happened before? --Account (talk) 01:20, 14 November 2019 (UTC)

Fixed now.--Account (talk) 02:49, 14 November 2019 (UTC)

Why is this comic listed as a Thursday comic? Isn't it Wednesday in Boston?--Account (talk) 02:49, 14 November 2019 (UTC)

Yes. I don't know what time the comic was uploaded, but right now it is 10:34 PM Wednesday in Boston. I changed the date of the comic to today instead of tomorrow. Mathmannix (talk) 03:34, 14 November 2019 (UTC)
Well, this site uses UTC time (something I somewhat disagree with, since I think it's a time zone that lands in the middle of the ocean, LOL! But clearly to be fair to people in different time zones, so I can't argue it as being the best choice), so maybe our site got it late enough that in UTC it was already Thursday? NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:33, 16 November 2019 (UTC)

I think the upper right picture looks like a cave, but maybe too angular to be natural; maybe a bomb shelter or something like that where those pesky humans might actually try to hide? Mathmannix (talk) 03:40, 14 November 2019 (UTC)

I was thinking a bomb shelter or bunker as well 03:44, 14 November 2019 (UTC)
That sounds about right; just made it official on the transcript. --Account (talk) 04:49, 14 November 2019 (UTC)
Bomb shelter or looks more like one of those hanger-in-a-hill things you see in movies. To paraphrase Star Wars, That's no cave. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:33, 16 November 2019 (UTC)
Looks like a tent to me. 19:15, 22 December 2019 (UTC)

I wonder if the section on the text case used for CAPTCHA should be moved to a trivia section, since the differences between here and xkcd.com is simply related to standard comic title convention and the font styles applied on each site. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 16:04, 14 November 2019 (UTC)

I agree with that-- or perhaps it should simply be ignored; after all, this wasn't mentioned in KSP 2.--Account (talk) 16:23, 14 November 2019 (UTC)
I indeed find it a rather petty and pedantic point. I really doubt Randall took his all-caps font into consideration, he simply wrote it technically incorrect (it's just a coincidence that the font makes it look almost normal). In the end it's quite common to write an acronym like a word, without capitalization: Scuba, laser, taser, gif, lol (and its variants), etc. Count me as another vote for a Trivia section, it's a nice note to make, but barely worth noting. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:33, 16 November 2019 (UTC)

This wiki uses reCAPTCHA! Run! AAAAAAAA172.68.189.121 19:12, 22 December 2019 (UTC)

same hereeeeeeeee An user who has no account yet (talk) 04:22, 6 September 2023 (UTC)

The title text reminds me of the video titled "Oversight: Thank you for volunteering, citizen." (subtitled "Or: what happens when you privatize Big Brother.") by Tom Scott on YouTube, which is a fictional dystopia concept about crowd-sourcing policing with an app made by a Domex company contacted by the government. Solomon (talk) 01:16, 29 April 2024 (UTC)