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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shredder Challenge

DARPA, the ones who brought us the $40,000 Red Balloon Hunt two years ago, has recently opened up a new challenge carrying an even bigger price tag. On October 27th five puzzles were released online, each puzzle consists of a series of screenshots of shredded document fragments. The goal, to reassemble the pieces and and solve the problem hidden within the reconstructed document. The payoff, $50,000 for you or your team. We typically think of shredding as a pretty permanent form of destruction; however, when you shred a document the contents may be difficult to read, but the information is more or less still there.

Why is DARPA giving away $50,000 to the talented decoder who solves their puzzles? Dan Kaufman, director of the Information Innovation Office, is predicting that the winner of the Shredder Challenge is likely to use techniques or technologies previously unexplored by DARPA researchers. Ultimately the hope is to gain insight into the process of document reconstruction which could be applied both to reviving destroyed documents in war zones where troops often come across remnants of enemy data and to protecting sensitive information used and shredded by United States security offices. According to Kaufman, “the ability to reconstruct shredded documents will potentially yield information that may save lives or offer critical information about an adversary’s plans. Currently, this process is much too slow and too labor-intensive, particularly if the documents are handwritten. We are looking to the Shredder Challenge to generate some leap-ahead thinking in this area.”

So whether it's by manual assembly or computer program, if you want to give your method a try, get started at the Shredder Challenge website. We're on the second day of the challenge now, but I don't think there has been must talk about successful applicants quite yet. In the Red Balloon Challenge, a group from MIT located the balloons to complete the task in less than nine hours, but it's always difficult to predict how much time a DARPA challenge will actually take. DARPA plans to reveal the winner of the Shredder Challenge on December 5, 2011.

An awesome-sounding project to be sure, though I don't think I'm smart enough to actually have a shot at it. It's neat that they (DARPA) are willing to look outside their usual research team for ideas and innovations. Good luck to anyone entering!

Follow Shredder Challenge updates on Twitter
DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) main website

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