Casey Chesnut: Genius (AND | OR) Evil ?

Casey Chesnut used a neural network to defeat comment-spam CAPTCHAs and used his software to auto-post a polite “Sorry, you’ve been 0wned, here’s how I did it” comment on 90+ blogs. Apparently, some people have their comment system linked to hairs up their asses and Furor Has Erupted ™. “He proved nothing! Everyone knew that this could be done!” Say some. Ummm… not so much. Recognition of pixel-based distorted shapes against a noisy background is not trivial (he says, being a guy who has reason to believe the U.S. is still using some neural net code of his in the latest generation of mumble-mumble-mumbles).

Neural nets, like most AI techniques, are easy to overestimate. A solution based on neural nets always involves creative preprocessing and an error-prone training and refinement process. Casey proved that it was relatively easy to extract trainable features from a particular, but fairly representative, CAPTCHA implementation. (Note to Casey critics: background grids would be trivial to preprocess out.) That seems absolutely praise-worthy to me.

Did he need to post to 90 blogs to prove his point? Nope. Is what he did unethical? Nope. At most, it was rude and I’m not even sure about that (I don’t know who he posted to, but it certainly wouldn’t be rude to anyone who had blogged about CAPTCHAs or AI or image recognition).

Keep going, Casey! Hey, why don’t you take on continual speech recognition in noisy environments next? Everyone knows it can be done!

Beyond the Pale

So there I am, all smug in my 99 Nerd Score and along comes a guy who builds an Apollo Guidance Computer in his basement. Not a software simulator, mind you (a nerdy exercise I can at least imagine), but an actual wire-wrapped reproduction. I am but a smudge of Dorito dust on the fingers of His Glorious Nerd Majesty.

Now, there is one way that I can maintain the self-esteem that is essential to a nerd lifestyle, which is to boast of my engagement in nerdy sports like Frisbee and SCUBA diving. Most geekily, recently I’ve been working on being able to hold my breath for a really, really long time, a “sport” where high perfomance relies on not moving.

Frisbee Golf

Spent the weekend getting my butt kicked in a Frisbee Golf Tournament over on the Hilo side. Camped at the gorgeous Mackenzie State Park, where the first two rounds were played in a very tight, forested course (the only two holes that weren’t through trees were over the water). Yesterday the tournament moved to Wailoa State Park in Hilo, which was much more open, but had great water hazards (100 yards over the water, island holes, etc.). I much preferred the Wailoa course, since (a) I’m a strong thrower but unused to golf discs, so I had no touch working through the trees, and (b) I can’t stand the “thunk” of a clean disc smacking into a tree at full speed.

Very nice group of people, including some travelling pros (yes, people travel to throw Frisbee golf). To me, though, the actual highlight of the weekend was a humpback that swam by no more than 100 yards offshore at Mackenzie.

Hilo was gorgeous yesterday. It gets a bad rap because it’s rainier than Kailua Kona, but it’s a really great town.