Detecting Robot Handwriting

Interesting article on the arms race between creating robot "handwriting" that looks human, and detecting text that has been written by a robot. Robots will continue to get better, and will eventually fool all of us.

Posted on September 24, 2014 at 7:12 AM • 26 Comments

Comments

YourFavoriteFakeIDSeptember 24, 2014 8:21 AM

This could be bad for check writing or contract signing. Someone just sold your house using a robot signature on the deed (or your car or any kind of property that needs a signature).

ThothSeptember 24, 2014 8:34 AM

Official documents usually would have a company seal / stamp (what you have) with a signature (what you know) in Asia. If a robot can fake a signature, I wonder what is the chance of paper document security (let's presume official seals/stamps can be replicated with enough effort and resource).

T!MSeptember 24, 2014 8:56 AM

Maybe in future a special wrist watch is able to control your hand with well dosed electrical discharge that you can perform an authentic signature of your favourite person.

For handicapped people this might be a great invention and for others, too ;)

hermanSeptember 24, 2014 8:58 AM

That's easy. Only robots do handwriting these days.

It has gotten so bad, that when I have to sign a cheque, I have to practice my signature a few times.

tobias d. robisonSeptember 24, 2014 9:10 AM

An interesting side comment: for my recently published second novel, I needed a typeface that looked like normal handwriting. There are many italic and writing-style fonts, but almost all of them strive to be beautiful and elegant; such fonts are much too fine to look like handwriting. It is hard to find a computer typeface that looks at all like human writing. - tobias d. robison

AnoniSeptember 24, 2014 11:42 AM

Nobody checks signatures anymore. A vague scrawl will satisfy any bank on a check. You don't even need letters, just a wiggly line. You're worried about a house sale or mortgage? What are they checking your signature against? You think they have a master copy somewhere on file?

It's a legal thing, not a security thing. That signature has legal implications, even if it's no more than a poorly drawn X.

Now after they realize a signature has been forged, they'll break out the experts and perform handwriting analysis. But that's mostly a dog and pony show for the judge and jury to convict the guy they've already decided did it.

AnuraSeptember 24, 2014 1:24 PM

@Anoni

It depends on the size of the transaction. A couple years ago, I made a $10,000 withdrawl (downpayment on car) and it took quite a while for them to verify the signature since I had not written a check in the years preceding that. I had maybe one check that I had endorsed within the past few months, and then probably some unemployment checks a year or two prior from before they did the EBT cards.

tyco bassSeptember 24, 2014 1:43 PM

These days I mostly sign plastic panels with results even I couldn't corroborate. Can robots do that?

Alan KaminskySeptember 24, 2014 2:57 PM

Interesting that most everyone here has zeroed in on the risks of using robots to forge signatures. I don't see a great risk there -- not because robots are so good, but because signatures as an authentication mechanism are becoming extinct.

The article talked about using robots to generate "handwritten" junk mail pieces that would fool the recipient into thinking they were written by a human, so the recipient would be more likely to open and read them instead of tossing them unread. As the article points out, there's no fundamental reason why a robot can't be programmed to mimic human handwriting with all its imperfections.

Actually, there's not much risk there either. Which human beings write letters any more? Very soon, receiving an actual letter will be a dead giveaway that it was written by a robot.

albertSeptember 24, 2014 3:08 PM

I don't know anyone who hand writes letters, and if I throw one out, it's no big deal. Cursive is very tiring to read. I'm glad it's gone. Signatures are, at best, artifacts, and not worth the ink they're written with. This is why contracts are witnessed and notarized. Someday, even that won't be enough, and we'll need fingerprint IDs, or (gasp!) implanted chips. Of course, they'll be implemented electronically, making them less secure than the signatures they're replacing :)
.
That said, I hope no one ever suffers identity theft, which is a terrible thing to deal with. There are many John & Jane Does in prison now; no one knows who they are, other than convicted ID thieves.
.
I gotta go...

TRXSeptember 24, 2014 3:56 PM

> Cursive is very tiring to read.

We were required to learn how to write it in elementary school in the 1960s. In junior high in the 1970s we were allowed to print block letters. I've used those ever since.

I never learned how to *read* cursive beyond laboriously decrypting the squiggles. Unless it's critically important, I don't bother.

Block letters came first, when they were carved into stone or pressed into wet clay with split sticks. Cursive was an effect of pen-and-ink, when it became possible to make a long squiggly line instead of separate strokes... and it pretty well *had* to be a long squiggly line since quill pens tended to blot at the beginning and end of the stroke.

The ball-point pen put an end to that...

TRXSeptember 24, 2014 4:04 PM

> robot

Well, there was the AutoPen, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autopen There's some history of prior devices at the link.

In 1943 FDR went to Cairo to meet with Churchill and Stalin. During his stay he signed some presidential documents via a radio link. A quick Google search didn't turn anything up. I'm pretty sure I read about it in Churchill's history of WWII.

MrESeptember 24, 2014 4:56 PM

...using robots to generate "handwritten" junk mail pieces that would fool the recipient into thinking they were written by a human...

I've been getting junk mail like that for several years now. Are they using robots? I don't know, and I don't care: all such mail goes into the recycle bin.

Andrew_KSeptember 25, 2014 12:48 AM

I'm not sure whether I'd doubt the authenticity of any handwritten message per se. I think, I would not, if the surroundings match. Take a hand written letter delivered via army postal service from the field.

This has potential for PSYOPs.

Has anyone mentioned the use of love letters for coercion yet? Who needs authenticity when suspicion is sufficient.

qwertyuiopSeptember 25, 2014 3:26 AM

@Hancock

The piece you linked to made me smile - "Take a look at your signature the next time you buy something with a credit card".

Why would I do that? The next time I buy something by credit card I'll key my PIN into the machine like I always do pretty much everywhere in the world except the US ;-)

Thomas_HSeptember 25, 2014 7:54 AM

@Alan Kaminsky:

A common modus operandi for mail fraud and errors is (lazy/criminal) postal agents signing in name of the customer, using a completely different signature than the real person's signature. Nobody checks signatures. An old acquaintance of mine routinely signed everything requiring a signature (including checks!) with little squares, triangles, sets of dots, bendy lines, etc. at random. He apparently almost never had any problem...

QSeptember 25, 2014 1:26 PM

I think people are misunderstanding the security threat that signing documents is a countermeasure to. Hand-signing documents is not a guard against a third party impersonating the (putative) signer, or even against a putative signer claiming that someone else impersonated them. Signing is a guard against the signee claiming that they were never informed of what is on the paper they signed, or claiming that they agreed to different terms than are on the paper they signed.

For a countermeasure to impersonation or claims of impersonation, last time I signed a loan, there was a page with a witness attesting that the person signing my name had ID that matched the name. Notarizing things is a similar countermeasure.

Jan WillemSeptember 25, 2014 2:45 PM

I am not surprised that a robot can do this kind of things. For each art humans are performing, a robot can be designed doing it better.

Running: robots are build which can go faster; on wheels or on feet
Chess: it costs more time, but in the end they will win
Math: even longer, but robots will do some math
Painting or sculpture: in the end we will see robots making beautiful art.

So why not making a signature or do some writing?

MartokanSeptember 30, 2014 9:52 PM

Isn't that why there are entities called notaries? A signature means nothing without someone vouching it was done by an authenticated individual. There are many many laws that deal with this sort of thing.

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