Why Google's CAPTCHA images are "so unbearably depressing"

I use a password manager, and that causes some websites to think I'm a bot because of how fast the username and password are entered.

When that happens, the website challenges me with a CAPTCHA — "Select all images with crosswalks/a bus/ stop signs/ a train." Sometimes the site will make me do 3, 4, even 5 CAPTCHAs. (Hulu seems to do this every time.)

Besides being annoying CAPTCHAs are also depressing because the photos are grim, joyless, and lack humanity.

In his Medium column, Clive Thompson takes a deep dive into why CAPTCHAs "erode the soul."

Here's the thing, ultimately, about Google's CAPTCHA images:

They weren't taken by humans, and they weren't taken for humans. They are by AI, for AI. They thus lack any sense of human composition or human audience. They are creations of utterly bloodless industrial logic. Google's CAPTCHA images demand you to look at the world the way an AI does.

It's no wonder we wind up feeling so numbed and depressed as we click through them, day in and day out.

Sometimes I try to put a playful spin on this, and imagine Google's CAPTCHA system as a massive, surreal Art Prank the corporation is playing on the public. I mean, you could squint at this and see it as art, right? That's what good art does: It shakes us out of normal perceptions and forces us to look at life in a new, slightly alien fashion. And hey, plenty of art uses automation and randomness to produce combinations that sidestep normal human meaning-making.

The problem with CAPTCHAS, though, is that we're forced to look at these images, by a $1.8 trillion firm. It makes it a lot harder to find any sort of aesthetic intrigue here.