Amazon's latest CAPTCHA idea tests your understanding of Newtonian physics

Amazon has landed on a curious way to determine whether you’re human or bot during a CAPTCHA test — by testing your understanding of physics.

The company has filed a patent application for a new CAPTCHA method which would show you a 3D simulation of something about to happen to a person or object. That something would involve Newtonian physics — perhaps an item is about to fall on someone, or a ball is about to roll down a slope. The test would then show you several “after” scenarios and, if you pick the correct option, you’ve passed the test.

You can see in the patent filing that Amazon’s engineers had some fun designing the scenarios, seemingly referencing childhood cartoons that rely on physics for humour.

One set of images shows someone that looks a little like Wile. E Coyote from “Looney Tunes”, beneath an anvil. In the cartoon series, the Coyote would regularly get crushed by various objects — including anvils.

Here’s the before picture:

Amazon physics-based CAPTCHAUSPTOA ‘before’ picture for Amazon’s proposed CAPTCHA system

Now you have to guess what would happen next from these four scenarios:

The answer, in case you aren’t familiar with the “Looney Tunes” repertoire, is “A” — the anvil would fall on the character’s head. Clearly the other three options make no sense, but bots don’t know the laws of motion.

Here’s another example:

And now you guess what happens next:

The system would rely on a physics engine — software that can simulate real-world systems — to generate different scenarios.

The idea is that, because you are a human, you have an “intuitive” understanding of what would happen next in these scenarios. But computers need much more information about the scene and “might be unable to solve the test”, according to the application.

In its application, Amazon wrote: “As computers become more powerful and as artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, there is a continuing need to evolve the tests employed by CAPTCHAs, as computers programmed with artificial intelligence or other text and image recognition algorithms can defeat certain weak CAPTCHA algorithms.”

Since this is only a patent application, the idea may never see the light of day. But Amazon is clearly trying to innovate CAPTCHA tests. A patent recently awarded to the firm involved a test which only worked if the human got the answer wrong.

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