OCR and How It Impacts Your Life

OCR (also known as Optical Character Recognition) is defined as the mechanical or electronic conversion of images that are typed, handwritten or printed text into machine-coded text.  The technology deals with the problem of recognizing and converting all different types of characters into text your computer can read.

Emanuel Goldberg was the first to develop a machine to read characters and convert to telegraph code in 1914.  Goldberg later developed technology to search microfilm archives using optical character recognition which he later sold to IBM in 1931. David Shepard, a former Armed Forces Security Agency worker, developed an optical character reading machine shortly after WWII to read credit card fonts.  Now the information is read magnetically from the back of the card.  In the 1960s and 1970s, the technology was used to assist blind and visually impaired users by having a computer read text to them out loud. Ray Kurzweil is credited with inventing omni-font OCR and selling a commercial version of the optical character recognition (with of one his first customers being LexisNexis). Several years later, Kurzweil sold his company to Xerox, which was later spun off as Scansoft and merged with Nuance Communications.

How OCR impacts your life

Banking – if you’ve ever deposited a check at the ATM machine or using a remote banking app from your cell phone, you’ve benefited from OCR technology. Banks implemented the OCR-based technology to reduce errors that resulted from the old method of placing checks or cash in envelopes and having the user enter the amount of the deposit. Today, smart phones can use OCR to extract text using the phone’s camera.

Marketing – many companies use codes to create competition for people to redeem coupons or vouchers. Using OCR can eliminate the hurdle of online registration and the process of typing a series of number and letters. Innovative mobile marketing campaigns can allow people to take a picture from their mobile device and automatically register them for a particular prize or drawing.

Identification – passports and IDs contain a machine-readable zone (MRZ) that can be scanned, and with OCR the process of identifying and registering people at borders or other checkpoints is faster and more accurate.  Making this type of technology useful for immigration officers or other security personnel.

Mail – while the number of people mailing letters has decreased significantly in recent years, the US Postal Service still delivers roughly 30 million handwritten envelopes every day. The USPS has used OCR for years to analyze the text and properly sort the mails that is delivered to your mailbox on a daily basis.

Top OCR solutions are Adobe Acrobat, Nuance OmniPage, and ABBYY FineReader.  See this link to see reviews from May of 2017 for complete list from Top 10 Reviews.

If you’re looking from a remote OCR app for your mobile device, I’ve provided a link to a list of top-rated apps from PC Magazine.

To learn more about Extract Systems and how we are using Nuance OmniPage in our automated document classification, indexing and redaction solutions, reach out to me. 


With 30 years of experience providing clients with stellar service and strategic solutions for growth and development, Troy is committed to ensuring his customers receive the highest quality solution, training and support with every implementation. He frequently speaks on the topic of redaction and is actively involved with National Association of Court Management, Property Records Industry Association and several other government organizations.