Optical character recognition, or OCR for short, is a type of tech that is capable of capturing text from physical sources and turning it into digital data.
This tech actually has its origins in the early 20th century, although it wasn’t until the 1970s that it really gained traction.
Today, OCR is widely used in a range of contexts, and delivers a raft of benefits to businesses and individuals alike. Let’s look at where it is used, and what advantages it offers.
Document scanning for preservation purposes
Digitizing text through OCR goes above and beyond the basic scanning of documents to create digital image files. It extrapolates the meaning from the written word contained on the pages, and makes this searchable and translatable, which is ideal where preservation is required.
Physical documents invariably deteriorate over time, but with OCR it is possible to digitize them efficiently and make them available to future generations.
Everything from scientific papers to religious texts, from wills to poetry, can be scanned and interpreted through OCR, aiding researchers as well as casual observers.
Another excellent application of OCR is that of making written text accessible to those who may be incapable of consuming it in its original form.
People with visual impairments, for example, will be able to access any document ever written even if they cannot read the words on the page itself.
It could be argued that this is not equivalent to reading, of course, but this misses the point that there is value in all sorts of different yet parallel experiences. For example, playing at live casinos is a unique experience, yet that does not detract from the quality of the online-only, purely digital equivalents to this.
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The fragility of physical documents goes hand in hand with their vulnerability to theft. With the help of OCR, businesses and government organizations can create digital copies of documents which can not only be stored centrally, but also secured far more rigorously and cost-effectively than their paper counterparts.
Digital documents can be easily copied and backed up across several locations, eliminating the worries regarding hardware failure, and also making things like fire, decay and natural disasters essentially irrelevant.
Automation and artificial intelligence are becoming more important as time passes, and providing a raft of benefits in their own right. With OCR tech tied into such solutions, the possibilities are endless.
Obviously there are the data processing perks that digitized text brings into play that have already been mentioned, and as these services are increasingly automated, it is a matter of improved efficiency for organizations of all sizes.
Then there is the way that OCR can work in fields such as robotics. If machines are endowed with integrated OCR abilities, they can do a better job of interpreting the world around them, whether that might mean reading road signs, heeding warning signs, parsing information from full-length documents or responding to requests written by humans.
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An offshoot of the automation aspect just discussed is the use of OCR in the fight against criminal activity.
Automatic number plate recognition is widely used by law enforcement authorities in many parts of the world to allow vast numbers of vehicles to be scanned and scrutinized in an instant.
So from looking out for wanted felons to fining people who fail to pay for a parking ticket, OCR is working behind the scenes in so many scenarios today.
OCR technology is crucial in so many contexts, and will likely become more important as time passes and our reliance on digital data grows.