The Super-Humans Who Read Addresses Computers Can't Figure OutS

Email has eaten most of snail mail's lunch, but computers are cutting into what's left by parsing the addresses of your packages and letters. When they can't figure out your scrawl though, it's squinting and guessing to the rescue, and the New York Times tracked down the few people left with that job.

When robot eyes started reading labels, even slightly messy handwriting was enough to confuse the computers. Then your loving-scrawled parcels would be shunted over to human eyes for a second opinion and a judicious guess. Now the robots have gotten a lot better and can handle over 98 percent of the 160 million packages that pass through the system each year. But someone's got to handle that awful 2 percent that's left.

From the New York Times:

“We get the worst of the worst,” Ms. Batin said. “It used to be that we’d get letters that were somewhat legible but the machines weren’t good enough to read them. Now we get letters and packages with the most awful handwriting you can imagine. Still, it’s our job to make sure it gets to where it’s supposed to go.”

...Speed is important. Each worker in this nearly football-field-length room is expected to process about 1,200 images an hour, and they average three seconds an image.

In September, the Postal Service will be shutting down one of the two remaining plants, and consolidating to a single location full of super reader-guessers. Let's just hope the computers keep getting better, because our handwriting is bound to keep getting worse. You can hop over to the New York Times to read more about these specialized squinters. [The New York Times]