DARPA Shredder Challenge
Written by Alex Arrmstrong   
Saturday, 29 October 2011

DARPA has just released five puzzles in a contest that involves extracting information from shredded documents. This type of pattern recognition problem is hard to solve - which is why there's up to $50,000 at stake.


DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has the aim of maintaining the technological superiority if the U.S. military and it sponsors research that has military objective. The background for its Shredder Challenge is that troops often confiscate the remnants of destroyed documents in war zones, but reconstructing them is difficult - and it is a problem that computer science and artificial intelligence could be expected to help with.

The ability to reconstruct shredded documents will potentially yield information that may save lives or offer critical information about an adversary’s plans,

said  Dan Kaufman, Director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office.

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.”


The Shredder Challenge is composed of five separate problems in which the number of documents, subject matter and the method of shredding is varied to present challenges of increasing difficulty. To complete each problem, participants are called upon to provide answers to puzzles embedded in the content of reconstructed documents.




The five puzzles are now available to download and the contest runs until December 4, 2011. A total of 50 points are available for correct or partially correct solutions to the puzzles which increase in complexity: 

Puzzle 1:   2 points
Puzzle 2:   4 points
Puzzle 3:   8 points (partial credit available)
Puzzle 4:   12 points (partial credit available)
Puzzle 5:   24 points (partial credit available)

One cash prize of up to $50,000  (i.e. $1,000 per point) will be awarded to the registered participant, an individual or a  team, who scores the most points and in the event of a tie the participant with the earliest time stamp for final submission will be the winner.

What is perhaps surprising is that there is no good computer based solution already in use. In a country where high tech hacking is assumed to be the norm within the security services, someone must have thought of automating the shredder jigsaw problem. Particularly when all it seems to need is just a basic implementation, and a fair amount of tweaking, of the sort of algorithms that already exist to solve classic jigsaw puzzles.

You just have to wonder about the many hours wasted forcing humans to piece together the shredded paper and you have to wonder what vital intelligence was lost because it took too long or just didn't get done.




The contest is restricted to permanent residents or citizens of the United States who are 18 years of age or older - check the full terms and conditions at the website.

More information:

DARPA Shredder Challenge



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Last Updated ( Saturday, 29 October 2011 )