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Optical Character Recognition Still Struggling With Handwriting 150

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-can't-read-my-handwriting-either dept.
Ian Lamont recently asked Google if they planned to extend their transcription of books and other printed media to include public records, many of which were handwritten before word processors became ubiquitous. Google wouldn't talk about any potential plans, but Lamont found out a bit more about the limits of optical character recognition in the process: "Even though some CAPTCHA schemes have been cracked in the past year, a far more difficult challenge lies in using software to recognize handwritten text. Optical character recognition has been used for years to convert printed documents into text data, but the enormous variation in handwriting styles has thwarted large-scale OCR imports of handwritten public documents and historical records. Ancestry.com took a surprising approach to digitizing and converting all publicly released US census records from 1790 to 1930: It contracted the job to Chinese firms whose staff manually transcribed the names and other information. The Chinese staff are specially trained to read the cursive and other handwriting styles from digitized paper records and microfilm. The task is ongoing with other handwritten records, at a cost of approximately $10 million per year, the company's CEO says."
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Optical Character Recognition Still Struggling With Handwriting

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  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:39AM (#25264827)

    Beat up Martin = Eat up Martha

    • Instead of using OCR, they can outsource it to India, have someone read the text and use speech to text software [google.com]

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 05, 2008 @06:29PM (#25267987)

        i've outsourced all of my computer applications and software needs to India.

        instead of using PowerPoint at meetings, i just have two Indian women in bikinis hold up large displays with my bullet points written on them--they even do slide transitions.

        instead of an e-mail client, i use an Indian courier. it takes a while for me to communicate with international clients, but i receive practically no spam.

        and rather than a word processor i have a guy with a notepad that a dictate to. he also offers me helpful tips when he notices that i'm trying to write a letter.

        then there's the 17-year-old i have doing my taxes. i don't even think he's out of high school yet, but he beats Turbo Tax any day.

        but you should really see the guy i have simulating Windows Vista for me. he wears this really slick suit, moves really slow, and everyone once in a while he comes up to me and kicks me in the balls.

  • Better approach? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mandelbr0t (1015855) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:40AM (#25264835) Journal
    It seems to me that it would be better to OCR everything and contract the proof-reading to the Chinese firm. The wide variation of writing styles and letter forms may make 100% accuracy of OCR impossible for this task, but starting from OCR should reduce the task, shouldn't it?
    • by TheSHAD0W (258774)

      I suppose it depends on how you go about it; correcting specific errors may require more therbligs than typing the entire words.

    • by Miststlkr (593325)
      In this particular case [the Census reports] there are so many alternative ways of spelling a lot of names, who is to say "Alyse must be a typo... make it Alice. And here.. Change Stefanie to Stephanie" In the situation of historical documents where names were less prominent I'd say I like your suggestion though.
      • by shawb (16347)
        I would imagine that the proofreader would have the computerized text and an image of the original text side by side for comparison.
    • by perlchild (582235)

      And if the OCR has a mistake, you gotta look for the original? Sometimes having the starting point being wrong leads you in the entirely wrong direction, but you don't know it's wrong. Since these would be people for whom english is a second(at best) to foreign(at worse) language, wouldn't that make them especially vulnerable?

    • by mrsteveman1 (1010381) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:25PM (#25265257)

      Chinese proof-reading? Only if you want your documents in Engrish.

    • It seems to me that it would be better to OCR everything and contract the proof-reading to the Chinese firm. The wide variation of writing styles and letter forms may make 100% accuracy of OCR impossible for this task, but starting from OCR should reduce the task, shouldn't it?

      It would probably be more costly to OCR it and then proof read it, especially if the error rate is higher than a certain amount, say 50%. There are written texts that I have a hard enough recognising, and only context allows me to wor

    • Re:Better approach? (Score:5, Informative)

      by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:47PM (#25265499)

      No.

      I own a microfilm digitization / OCR shop. We work with tons of old records such as the ones referenced in this story, as well as old HR docs, check stubs, time cards, architectural drawings, you name it. If you OCR cursive, you don't get back 80%, or 70%, or even 30% accuracy . . . you get back a bunch of pseudo-random (to our eyes) characters which are in NO WAY related to what the actual text is. About the only handwriting recognizable using today's tech is block-print, like you find on engineering diagrams. The technique in this article is pretty standard operating procedure, and has been for some time -- much easier to put a few hundred people on the project and grind through it (and cheaper too compared to data entry rates here in the US -- about 1/3 the price). That usually includes double-keying to check everything and a 99.99999% accuracy guarantee.

      Just FYI, there are only a few OCR engines out there. Probably the most commonly used is the ABBYY engine, which is both OEMed and sold directly as desktop- and server-based products by ABBYY. There are a few others as well, and despite their differences, most have pretty much the same capabilities and accuracy. But OCR of cursive, especially of the docs cited in the article where you don't have someone sit down and "train" the machine first with handwriting samples, is still one of the great "unsolved" computing problems. I expect we'll have the capability in the next decade or so as processor core density, memory, and storage continues to increase at their current rate -- eventually, the machine will be able to "brute-force" through the docs just like the Chinese data entry folks in this article.

      • by GIL_Dude (850471)
        As an industry expert I imagine you know a whole lot more about this than I would - and I am sure you are completely correct.

        Perhaps the cursive issue has to do with the effective resolution you can get from the old paper scans? I know using the tablet edition of Windows Vista I can get much higher than 90% recognition of cursive input on the tablet. However that is probably due to the fact that no scanning is needed: Windows has a basically perfectly resolved snapshot of what my scribble looks like withou
        • by story645 (1278106)

          I know using the tablet edition of Windows Vista I can get much higher than 90% recognition of cursive input on the tablet. However that is probably due to the fact that no scanning is needed:

          You're also constantly teaching the computer to recognize the handwriting by accepting good texts and rewriting bad ones (or choosing the match.) And as the parent said, training the comp helps a lot. I've got an XP tablet and lousy handwriting, so my recognition is usually around %30, up to maybe %50 if I take my time to form clear letters.

          • by xenocide2 (231786)

            Vista's handwriting was the first Windows to accept training. I'd wager one reason is that there's no way the average user would know something's gone wrong or what a bad sample looked like. But the tablet offered another improvement: intelligent scratch out. As an XP user, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. There's a specific pattern to erase.

            Of course, mileage varies, so you can't compare recognition rates between people effectively. Even less perceived recognition rates as stated on Internet forum

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It's not resolution, your tablet has less resolution than a scanner. Tablets can do a lot better because they can keep track of which lines you made first. The problem is much easier when you have an ordered and timed series of strokes to examine compared to when you only have a finished picture to look at.

        • Handwriting input systems tend to rely heavily on watching the order in which you draw the strokes of various letters, and they're generally designed only to recognize letters written in a small subset of the various forms a cursive letter can actually take.

        • Handwriting recognition on a Tablet PC is easier than with old paper scans for the reasons you mentioned, but also for another reason: time. Unlike with paper scans, Microsoft's handwriting recognition system also knows the order and direction in which you wrote each stroke. Because of that, the system may be able to correctly identify different letters even when the completed input looks exactly the same, because they were drawn differently.

          Take a "7" and a "T" for instance: maybe in your handwriting they

        • Perhaps the cursive issue has to do with the effective resolution you can get from the old paper scans?

                No, has to do with no breaks between the letters, similar to wordsruntogether but with cursive letters run together for each word.

            rd

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TheNetAvenger (624455)

          Couple of points...

          1) MS Research probably has some of the best work being done on handwriting recognition, including imaged documents. However it is no where near the needed levels. Google would be better off to work with Microsoft on stuff like this, than the motto of screw anything MS is doing and we will recreate it ourselves.

          2) On your Vista Tablet PC, the reason you can get 90-99% levels of recognition is that TabletPCs and Vista/Windows use a concept called 'ink' (that goes back to early work at Mic

        • by gbutler69 (910166)
          Actually, the reasons it works better are mostly the following: 1. It can track your strokes and calculate vectors for each stroke indicating direction, length, etc. It can even quickly fit a curved stroke to a bezier curve. So, when you are done "stroking" (no pun intended), it has a mathematical description of each stroke, not just a static image that it then has to break down. 2. It "learns" how you tend to write things. Everytime you write something and then make a correction to what it determin
        • Actually OCR'ing cursive is probably more a function of being able to accurately scan pen and ink writing than it is a function of "cursive is hard to decode".

          That, and a touch screen generates a curve with X and Y as a function of time. This curve contains the order and speed of the strokes made by the stylus at any given moment, valuable information for distinguishing characters. A raster image generated by the scanner is density as a function of X and Y, with no time information.

      • by mi (197448) <slashdot-2014@virtual-estates.net> on Sunday October 05, 2008 @02:20PM (#25266261) Homepage

        I expect we'll have the capability in the next decade or so as processor core density, memory, and storage continues to increase at their current rate -- eventually, the machine will be able to "brute-force" through the docs just like the Chinese data entry folks in this article.

        In the next decade or so we will have increased our processing power about 1000 times over. This work is scalable "sideways" — two pages can be processed by two computers independently. Which means, a thousand of today's computers could've done the work @home-style.

        The problem is not with the processing power — it is the lack of algorithms. You and I reassemble the hand-written characters quite differently from how today's computers do it. The software will need to be created — and it is not the lack of CPU/memory/storage power, that's holding it.

        One thing for sure is that the new algorithms will need to use the spell-checking engine(s) to better guess, what the next letter might be. On top of that, they would need to be equipped with grammar-checkers too, to be able to guess the next word, however illegible. Human speech (and thus writing) is quite redundant often — even if a misplaced coma can reverse the meaning on occasion.

        Our brain certainly uses its knowledge of both the general rules of the language and that of the domain of what's written — this is why another doctor can decipher another doctor's handwriting, for example, that's infamously illegible to mere mortals. The software will have to do the same — and it can start doing it already.

        • Agreed . . . part of the problem is lack of algorithms, especially for complex cursive handwriting with no prior "training." However, OCR is tremendously resource-intensive. I'd actually put it up there with video editing as one of the most resource-hungry things you can do with a computer. E.g., we do a lot of 35mm newspaper microfilm conversion to searchable PDFs. Your average roll of newspaper microfilm will take *hours* to OCR -- that's on our eight-core dual quad-Xeon box with 8 GB RAM running th
        • You and I reassemble the hand-written characters quite differently from how today's computers do it

          And often we fail. A lot of signatures are unreadable by a human. Often when I let someone annotate a printed document, I find I'm unable to decode at least one of their comments.

          Our brain certainly uses its knowledge of both the general rules of the language and that of the domain of what's written

          OCR has done this for ages - for each region, it generates a list of potential letter-sequences with a probability attached. It then gives a higher weighting to the ones that are real words. Sometimes it gives a higher weighting to sequences of words that are grammatically (although not necessarily semantically) valid. The pro

      • The US Post Office has, for years, had fairly reliable automated reading of handwritten digits, which is used to auto-sort and -route mail by zipcode. It can handle some pretty terrible handwriting, crazy arrangement on the envelope, and unlikely variations, so only a relatively small percentage of letters are spit out to be read by human eyes.

        Its task is made easier by the fact that they're locating and segmenting fixed-length sequences that are usually at least somewhat separated: they're looking for eith

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fyoder (857358) *

      Teaching someone English at that level would be more difficult that teaching them to recognize characters. In ancient Rome the people who engraved dies for coins weren't always literate, but they managed for the most part to get the inscriptions right. Barbarians who made copies had more trouble, but then perhaps they thought the inscription part was purely decorative allowing for artistic interpretation. Or perhaps they weren't flogged for making mistakes. Point is, you can copy without having the high

      • Point is, you can copy without having the high level of literacy required for proof reading.

        You can copy without having even the tiniest understanding of the language; just put a large table of symbols up on the wall and look at it every day, you'll know which doodle maps to which symbol. Ask your more experienced colleagues when you're in doubt.

        I'm basing this on having copied one or two hundred Cyrillic letters before learning anything about Russian pronunciation [and my current understanding is still rough]; I'm sure that with enough practice, one could get a solid grasp of which letter is whi

    • It seems to me that it would be better to OCR everything and contract the proof-reading to the Chinese firm. The wide variation of writing styles and letter forms may make 100% accuracy of OCR impossible for this task, but starting from OCR should reduce the task, shouldn't it?

      No, you may be confusing handwriting with handwritten characters. The summary said CAPTCHA's were broken, but all the examples given in past /. threads were of CAPTCHA characters that didn't overlap. I haven't se

  • Half the time.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Miststlkr (593325) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:43AM (#25264855)
    I can't even read people's handwriting, I hardly expect a computer to.
    • Re:Half the time.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by glwtta (532858) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:07PM (#25265085) Homepage
      Hell, I can't even read my own handwriting. Yeah, this is probably not going to happen.
      • by houghi (78078)

        Mine has gotten worse in the last years. This basically because I seldom write anything anymore and use other forms of keeping data. I assume this will only get worse.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kristoph (242780)

      I've been using a computer since I was a kid, 25 odd years now. I can't write. I don't believe I ever really learned it.

      I can print if I have to, though I usually ask my wife to do it because my hand gets sore after filling out a one page form. (In contrast I can easily type for 14+ hours at a stretch.)

      I guess I get the point of handwriting recognition, for historical documents, but do we really need it for future devices?

      • by Nutria (679911)

        I've been using a computer since I was a kid, 25 odd years now. I can't write. I don't believe I ever really learned it.

        That's pathetic. Your parents and grammar school teachers should be caned.

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/10/AR2006101001475_pf.html [washingtonpost.com]

        The neurological process that directs thought, through fingers, into written symbols is a highly sophisticated one. Several academic studies have found that good handwriting skills at a young age can help children express their t

        • And did any of these studies compare expressing your thoughts with a pen to expressing them with a keyboard? I can barely write anymore. When I was 14 I started being allowed to submit some essays at school in typed form, and at university the only things I ever hand wrote were exams. I'm now 26, have a PhD, and had my first book published last year. It's rated 4.5 stars on Amazon, with comments praising the clarity of expression. I type something on the order of three thousand words a day, but I'd be

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've been researching John Steinbeck's personal correspondence recently. Even with familiarity, his writing can be quite difficult to read. While reading a letter or trying to figure out the names he wrote on a photo, I feel sorry for his wife (Carol, at least) who did a great deal of transcription for him. Even though Steinbeck's typing is horrible, it is a huge relief to deal with his typed documents after a session with his handwriting. His handwriting is very neat and consistent, and even so, is mon

  • 1. Use the handwritten words as CAPTCHAs
    2. Wait for the bad guys to come up with programs to break them.
    3. ...
    4. Profit!

    • by aslvrstn (1047588) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:51AM (#25264939)
      Joking or not, that's kind of the idea behind reCAPTCHA. It takes words that OCR failed on and uses them as CAPTCHAs. The same idea could work for handwriting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ReCAPTCHA [wikipedia.org]
    • CAPTCHA requres you to know what it says in the first place. You typed in Mary Jones, but that's not what my Chinese transcriber/OCR think it says. You could keep a database of failed CAPTCHAs and accept them as more people repeat, but then the bad guys will use the same bad entry over and over.
      • by hypersql (954649)
        It works if done in pairs. Like the Google Image Labeler [google.com] it would always take at least two people to solve a CAPTCHA. Two or more randomly selected people would be paired to transcribe the same image (hand written text snippet). If one of them is too slow, the image changes automatically. Only if the majority of answers is the same, it would be accepted.

        Pairing doesn't work for small websites, because not enough people would use the service at the same time. It would only work for large sites. Somebody mi

        • by cnettel (836611)
          The other solution for pairs (which I think was also suggested by recaptcha) is to use two words. You are you told that you have to answer both right, but in fact at least one of them can be somewhat uncertain, and the system will accept your input if it matches for the already fixed image. The already certain set can start out as rather small and simple, but it will grow quickly, even for a small site. You can still require 4 or so identical answers (with no conflicting ones) to the same image for it to be
        • I'd not come across the Google Image Labeler before, but I have seen the idea before - it was a paper published by someone at CMU several years ago. He had a working implementation in flash and it was quite fun. Assuming the Google version works like the original, it doesn't need two people to be online at once - it can create virtual players from previously entered data. It is possible to spam it, however, and also possible for a simple program to game - most images ended up being tagged 'red' 'green' o
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:46AM (#25264883)

    There is a simple reason that general OCR is much harder than cracking a CAPTCHA. General OCR has to recognize text *reliably*. CAPTCHA breakers are thrilled with a 10% success rate, because they use distributed systems created by worms to do the hard work a million times over. If you got 10% of the words right when scanning historical records you might as well not bother.

  • by Coopjust (872796) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @11:49AM (#25264915)
    An OCR program can include a bank of fonts, and even when there is some sort of spill/ink blot/whatever on the paper, it has a solid reference. Handwriting isn't so easy, because humans don't always write their "Q"s with the line in the exact same spot and other fluctuations. Even if you gave a computer a point of reference (neatly drawn letters corresponding with their actual alphabetical values), a computer probably couldn't get it for a lot of people with inconsistent handwriting.

    Now, with context and improved technology, I don't think that handwriting recognition is impossible. I have a feeling that it will be a technology like speech recognition: never perfect, and it will require training.
    • by Miststlkr (593325)
      Personally, I think\hope that PDAs and smartphones getting more common will lead to some breakthroughs. My HTC TyTn was pretty decent at handwriting recognition as an input, far better than the old Palm Pilot I had used back in The Day For the time being though I definitely see it, as you mentioned, as a trained system as current voice recognition apps.
      • by Kickersny.com (913902) <kickers.gmail@com> on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:04PM (#25265045) Homepage

        While handheld technology is indeed getting better, it's not directly applicable to the problem at hand. Real-time handwriting analysis uses stroke analysis as well as shape analysis to determine the letter(s). That is, the order in which you construct your letters matters very much. For example, if you crossed your T before drawing the vertical bar, the engine may have a difficult time figuring out what you intended.

        When OCRing documents, all of that 'meta-information' is lost.

        • by cnettel (836611)
          You are right, but on the other hand a really good scan might be able to indicate the order. Paper that was already wet will react slightly different to the next ink stroke, etc.
        • And on top of that, there's a direct feedback loop. If the machine makes a mistake recognizing the user's handwriting, the user can immediately correct that mistake. No such option with automated scanning/OCR. And in any process, direct feedback on the discrepancy between (what you wanted) and (what you have right now) can make a huge difference in the results.

  • For a moment there, I was picturing some new technology that could distinguish between C, PERL and and Java written on scratch paper.

  • by bigattichouse (527527) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:06PM (#25265075) Homepage
    Now you take the human translated recognition, and use it to train your genetic algo or neural net against the original images.
    • Yeah, word up, right?

    • Now you take the human translated recognition, and use it to train your genetic algo or neural net against the original images.

      Sorry to be pedantic, but a genetic algorithm is a search heuristic, not a learning algorithm. You could train it to search for discriminative patterns in the training data, but it would almost certainly overfit because it's the wrong tool for the job. Neural nets, while more appropriate as a learning algorithm, have recently been usurped by Support Vector Machines (SVMs), which are much better at not overfitting.

  • I hope they didn't give them the Presidential Book of Secrets, we could all be in trouble then!

  • I guess we should start making kindergartners write in "Times New Roman" from now on.
    • Re:New strategy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Belial6 (794905) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @01:07PM (#25265679)
      You joke, but there really in very little reason to teach children handwriting/script/cursive (whichever you want to call it). The point of cursive was to speed up writing. It was never any good for readability. In today's world, if you need to write a lot of stuff, you are generally going to type it on a computer. Since just about anything that we would want to write by hand will be short, the speed gain would be minimal. Thus spending time and resource to teach every kid to write a useless, illegibly font is pretty pointless.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by GrayNimic (1051532)
        Speed-writing, of one form or another, is still useful for note-taking (in meetings, lectures/seminars, classes, etc). You can't have your laptop everywhere.

        (and in some circumstances the keyboard clicking is loud enough to be considered disruptive - true, there are loud pens & pencils, but I run into far more loud laptops than scratching handwriting implements).
        • You can't have your laptop everywhere

          I have a Nokia 770 and a folding bluetooth keyboard. They both fit in my jacket pockets, and the keyboard is very quiet to type on. The number of places where you are going to have a pen but not a keyboard is very small. Given how cheap storage space is now though, why would you even take notes? A modern mobile phone has enough capacity to record the audio of a lecture uncompressed, and enough CPU power to compress it quite heavily. Set your phone to record at the start of the lecture and take pictures

      • Re:New strategy (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Jorophose (1062218) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @03:18PM (#25266721)

        Except for most of us it's faster to write with your hands.

        Writing by hand, you can jump letters and make abbrevs, you can draw diagrams right in there, and not to mention it feels a lot better. I don't know why but sitting and typing on my computer, and same when I used to paint minis, feels painful and stuffy. With the option of either typing or writing I'd definately take writing. Sure, with typing on a computer you can erase stuff quickly, but text editors have always been shitty for me (stuff like AbiWord often having graphical glitches or plain slow, text editors too or just lame feeling) and hitting a bunch of blocks to make words does not feel as good as actually writing down the words.

        I never mastered cursive properly. I write "script", but write while skipping letters in my notes and using small symbols (batman symbol, drawn as a W in a circle, for example, is distress; three points is "donc", ds dans, etc and it changes depending on context). I write fairly fast, and imho much faster than when I type, if only because when I type I often hit the wrong keys; often being once a paragraph, and it's often because I can't get my mind straight on the keymap, or my fingers hit in the wrong order.

        • Any shortcut you take when writing makes it harder to read, and generally if something is worth writing it's going to be worth reading more than once. With a half-decent text editor you can do word completion (control-p in Vim) for commonly-used long words which is even faster than writing the abbreviated form and much more readable. With a decent set of macros you can type shorthand and expand it to the full form on-the-fly. When typing LaTeX, I have F2 bound to my 'do what I mean' script, which parses

  • C in this case means Character, not Code. See one definition [pcmag.com].

    I have never seen the word Code used in an English definition.

    • Sorry, the use of "code" instead of "character" was my error. I corrected it in TFA, after being notified by a /. editor.
  • Why's that a supprise... I can't read my own handwriting either... And I certainly can't read the handwriting written by someone else a hundred years ago... Why do you expect a program to be able to do so...
  • by saigon_from_europe (741782) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:32PM (#25265333)

    There is an on-line archive of all people that have passed trough Ellis Island (http://www.ellisisland.org/search/passSearch.asp). It consists of retyped (OCR-ed?) ship manifests. Manifests are lists of passengers, with names, places of births and similar information. In original, they are written by hand, in cursive scripts (as expected for late 19th and early 20th century).

    Problem is not with the script, but with appropriate context. Someone who retyped this, did not know what to expect in these forms.

    My grand-grand father's place of origin was written as "Lipovqani, Slovenia". Pair "lj" was recognized as "q". For someone who is native English speaker "lj" one next to other does not make too much sense. But for anyone with Slavic origin, "q" does not make sense (it's only in foreign words), and "lj" does make sense since it is a way to write "soft l" voice like in "Richelieu".

    Ok, maybe that was not the an easy part to guess. But "Slovenia" was serious error. In that moment, Slovenia did not exist. It was part of the Austro-Hungary, and it did not exist as single entity inside it. What was really written was actually "Slavonia". That's an area in Eastern Croatia, and it *was* an entity inside Austro-Hungary.

    Should I mention that I was not able to track my grand-grand mother and my other grand-grand father?

    • Are images of the original hand-written documents available on the Web?

      • Yes, but you can see them only once you find something in the search. And they used to have some funny system trying to prevent people from printing original scans.

    • Many of the immigrants were barely literate in their own language, let alone English, and so names and places might be recorded how the official thought it should be spelled. Maybe they were busy or annoyed and couldn't be bothered to check. They were government employees, after all...

      On top of that you have people who don't wish to stand out or suffer discrimination and intentionally anglicise their names.

      I'm with you 100% about context. And good luck with the searching.

  • by British (51765) <british1500@gmail.com> on Sunday October 05, 2008 @12:45PM (#25265477) Homepage Journal

    Can OCR properly trace the lines at least to replicate it? Meaning, it could make a vector replica of the handwriting? Would be neat if it could do that, then try to straighten out the lines, perhaps to simulate the possible path the original writer took to write it. Of course, the software will have to figure out intersections. Maybe a path of logic would be to know what turns a handwriter would NOT take, and then determine individual letters from that.

    Combine that with other logic, like finding "dots" would indicate an i or a j, and maybe it will improve.

    • Clever.

    • by S3D (745318)

      Can OCR properly trace the lines at least to replicate it? Meaning, it could make a vector replica of the handwriting?

      That is easy enough. Edge detection [wikipedia.org] and morphological thinning [wikipedia.org] can do the job.

      Maybe a path of logic would be to know what turns a handwriter would NOT take...

      And that is a real problem. Topological approach have limited usefulness - similar turns could make different letters. Statistical approaches like baesian networks , ANN can help here, but even human brain often have problems with f

    • Can OCR properly trace the lines at least to replicate it? Meaning, it could make a vector replica of the handwriting? Would be neat if it could do that, then try to straighten out the lines, perhaps to simulate the possible path the original writer took to write it.

      That was my goal many years ago. I got as far as analyzing characters into vectors, and that includes cursive writing. Then I was going to analyze the vectors just as you suggest. I got sidetracked into a career on the AS/4

  • by Toll_Free (1295136)

    Get the guys writing the code that breaks captcha.

    Simple, honestly. Make it economically worthwhile to write the code to do such. Writing code to break handwriting isn't as lucrative as say, writing virii or malware code.

    Take a look at the results...

    disclaimer: I doubt they will EVER break my doc's handwriting.

    --Toll_Free

  • Back in highschool, I had a job that involved creating a database for a local cemetery's burial records. For 120 years, these records had been kept in a set of handwritten journals with a semi-alphabetical index. Given the time span, there had been many generations of people making these handwritten entries...and the differences in penmanship were outstanding.

    Some time around the 1940's or 1950's, the job passed from a fountain-pen user to a fan of the ballpoint. Wow, what a difference. Early ballpoi

  • OK, so their CAPTCHA has just been broken, and computers cannot read handwriting... why not use handwriting as CAPTCHAs?

    • by joshuac (53492)

      Because the computer wouldn't know if the text the human responded with was the actual CAPTCHA text.

      Guess you could have the same section of text handled by, say 10 people and make the first person wait until the computer has gotten enough verifications from the next 9 users; but it would suck to be that first person.

      Anyone know the CAPTCHA/sec rate for a major site (success rate, we want to exclude the botnets)?

      • Because the computer wouldn't know if the text the human responded with was the actual CAPTCHA text.

        Give them two words, one known [to the computer] and one unknown. If the user correctly identifies the one word, assume they correctly identified the other one, and store their response. Once you have a consensus on what the unknown word said, you can be pretty sure it is accurate and you add it to your list of known words. That's basically the reCAPTCHA [wikipedia.org] approach.

  • Let's get this straight -- they're transcribing an archaic form of handwriting, from a language they don't know, using characters they don't know, for a guy who's going to pay them minimum wage and isn't going to check their work. Yeah, right.

  • I volunteered this summer transcribing input for a senate campaign. For many documents, people's handwriting was simply unreadable. Even using context, years of experience with parsing human names, the fact that half of the people were already in our database, and the ability to google for contributor's company names, I still had a number of times where I just had to guess at what people meant. Granted, only about 5% of the input is completely illegible, but if I can't parse it, I certainly can't blame a ma
  • http://www.irislink.com/ [irislink.com]

    I was shocked to see how well it read my hand writing. This was on a Tablet PC running XP.
    The only nuisance was having to turn it off when you didn't need it. Otherwise it kept on thinking I was writing something.

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