Programmers Solve DARPA’s Paper Puzzle Challenge For $50k Prize


A team of California computer programmers has conquered the Pentagon’s latest civilian research challenge.

The military’s research arm, DARPA, announced last week that the team of three, called “All Your Shreds Belong To Us,” had scooped up the  $50,000 prize. To do it, they’d required 33 days and 600 man hours, all to re-assemble five shredded documents. 9,000 teams entered the contest, which gave groups until Dec. 5 to use whatever means necessary to put pulverized papers back together.

The contest is the latest in a series of Darpa-led efforts — from diverless cars to balloon hunts — that harness civilian smarts to spur military-related innovations. This time around, agency leaders were looking for new, creative ways to help soldiers reconstruct sensitive documents that are found in piecemeal form. The initiative could also help U.S. officials determine the safest way to protect their own covert paperwork.

There were 10,000 pieces of paper that needed to be sorted. To do it, the winning posse designed custom-made software, whereas other competitors opted for mass, global crowdsourcing or good-old-fashioned by-hand puzzle assembly. Once created, the software used visual recognition technology to help a user find and place the right pieces.

“Lots of experts were skeptical that a solution could be produced at all, let alone within a short time frame,” Dan Kaufman, director of Darpa’s Information Innovation Office, said in a statement. But the puzzles, which you can see here, have indeed been solved and DARPA has a brand new computer program in their possession.


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