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Human Brain Still Beats Computers At Finding Messages and Meaning Within Noise ( 64

szczys writes: One thing the human brain still does a lot better than computers is to recognize patterns within noise. That's why CAPTCHA uses distorted images to prove you're human, and random number generators are often inspected by visual representation. There is a technology that leverages this human knack for signal processing to make us part of the machine. The Hellschreiber is a communications device which has no idea whatsoever what the message actually is. It transfers a signal from one unit to the next, before being assembled into an image. A human looking at the image will see words, much like CAPTCHA. But even if the signal isn't perfect, our brains can often pick out the order within the madness, much like inspecting a PRNG for uniform distribution.
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Human Brain Still Beats Computers At Finding Messages and Meaning Within Noise

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  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Wednesday December 30, 2015 @07:31PM (#51212467) Homepage Journal
    How about at finding messages that aren't there in the noise? The human brain is excellent at doing that, so in the end the computer might win on error rate.
    • by lhowaf ( 3348065 )
      Paul is dead.
    • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Wednesday December 30, 2015 @07:57PM (#51212623) Homepage Journal

      Wrong. I saw lizards in photographs that Mars Rover totally missed.

    • I bet a computer would beat a human at finding computer coded messages in images or sounds which to a human seem like nothing more than static. Hm, this audio file seems like it contains a jpg image of a kitten, said no human ever.

      • That would be because the information is hidden on a level, frequency, or timescale where our brains can not detect it.
        Not a fair comparison.

        • I thought the comparison was brains detecting things? It would be unfair if the senses could not detect it, unless the comparison was with camera/microphone sensitivity.

      • I would bet against you with a large sum. The only way a computer would know this is if it could identify what part of the pattern constitutes the encoded data and what part constitutes the background "noise". For that it would need to know what noise looks like, and what the pattern looks like.

        To extend this with an example. If you rename a JPEG without an extension you would need to find some evidence of a file being a JPEG in the first place. It won't get this from the raw data stream unless it is lookin

    • We human excel at finding specific shapes, like a human shape or face. Change the shape , like to number and letter , and we are far less good as show the problem people also have with captcha. Get a random shape, and computer will *excel* way over human to decide where it should go. So I would argue that our "finding shape out of random noise" is actually much more specialized than surmised.
    • Are you trying to tell me that the burned patch on my toast isn't a divinely placed image of Jesus, part of a message intended for Me Alone to help me Believe?

      Next you will tell me that the clouds aren't really full of fluffy little sheep being eaten by equally fluffy sharks.

      You brute.


  • Humans have creativity to interpret visual and audio input in ways a computer would fail to do. They can think "outside the box" of ways information would attempt to be transmitted and find patterns a computer would miss. This also means they are more likely to have a false-positive for the message. The easiest example of this is a person who thinks they "heard voices" in background noise from equipment or closed rooms.

    Giving a computer the ability to match this would require at least programming every imag

  • So what I hear you saying is that humans are better at being paranoid than computers... An interesting theory. And how do you feel about the upcoming singularity?

  • I am sure you can train a neural network (either convolutional or recurrent would probably do) to read that display as well as any human. This doesn't even seem challenging.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      That might be true but, and this is a question - I don't know, wouldn't you have to retrain it for new information such as new patterns where a human would not need training (necessarily) to be able to do the same when the patterns changed?

  • and horseshoes. digital has two options. brain is "closest counts".
  • ... even if there is no message.

    That's how religions got their start.

  • So I'm a software developer and an amateur radio operator, and I still have no idea what the point of that article was (besides the fact that Hellschreiber starts with "hell" and apparently the author found that to be terrifically funny or clever or something).

  • Computers still struggle at finding messages and especially meaning in clear, coherent sentences.

  • In exchange for excelling at one thing, there is a facet of that skill that impairs one's ability at something else.

    No two leaves or snowflakes are exactly the same, making one of any two better suited for some things than another.

  • For humans the inability to do so means the difference between life and death. For machines, all a mistake means is a reboot.

  • I'd like to see proof that current neural networks are worse than humans at decoding noisy hellschreiber messages, because CAPTCHAs have moved away from those sorts of distortions.
  • That's pretty much all our brains do- trying to find patterns in an overwhelming deluge of sensory information, hoping to find something meaningful that it can use in some way. Seriously, that's what our brains spend most of their time doing, day in and day out.

    We're highly-tuned to find some patterns and not other. And we're also prone to "finding" patterns where there actually aren't any, like "seeing" faces in almost everything we look at (like in building facades, patterns in tree bark, seeing the Virgi

  • Doesn't this story basically describe why captcha is still effective?

  • "Human Brain Still Beats Computers At Finding Messages and Meaning Within Noise?" That must explain why I keep tuning in here at /., whereas my Bot's favorite place to waste time is Ashley Madison...

  • The Hellschreiber is a communications device which has no idea whatsoever what the message actually is.

    So just like a telephone, or a fax machine, or a TV...

    • Hellschreiber *is* a type of fax service -- stripped down for use with simple equipment and a noisy communication channel. It has been around for a very long time. Why are we suddenly rediscovering it?

  • It's no good giving me mod points every couple of days hoping I'll moderate, if you keep logging me out all the time!

    I'm logged in on the home page, but when I open stories in separate tabs most of them are logged out. Developers.Slashdot is one of the few that still seems OK.

    When you're done messing about with breaking things on older Firefoxes (yes I'm on v3 on Mint 7 but no reason to upgrade when it mostly still works), please fix this. Thanks. Happy 2016.

  • People also see bigotry where none exists. People are easily fooled.

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.