What is OCR – The Basics of Optical Character Recognition

By NE Docs | April 16, 2014

With the growing demand for electronic documentation and paperless business solutions – there has been a significant growth in interest surrounding OCR technology. Unfortunately, despite its increase in popularity and numerous benefits to traditional scanning, many professionals are still left with the question – what is OCR?

In today’s business atmosphere, it is becoming increasingly common for documents to be scanned, allowing for the convenient access and sharing of important files. However, these scanned documents are merely images of the original files – which prevent editing and searching. OCR technology seeks to resolve these issues by making the text of these documents more accessible. OCR, or optical character recognition software, allows users to convert paper records into electronic files – transforming physical paper into searchable and editable digitized documentation.

OCR is widely utilized as a form of data entry, allowing users to process and recall information from original paper data sources quickly and accurately. Whether it be invoices, bank statements, receipts, mail, or any number of printed materials – OCR technology has given birth to the next era of document scanning and management efficiency. While OCR software is still a developing technology, it has quickly become the best method for digitizing typed records into malleable electronic files.

While optical character recognition is paving the way for more intelligent and accurate document management processes – it is not solely concerned with paper files. In fact, OCR was originally developed as both a telegraphy tool and a reading device for the visually impaired, and has since grown into an entire field of research in regards to pattern recognition and artificial intelligence.

The History of OCR

NPG x48139; Edmund Edward Fournier D'Albe by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd)Early OCR can be linked to activities involving the expansion of telegraphy and the creation of reading devices for those with vision impairments. It was in 1914 that Emanuel Goldberg, an Israeli physicist and inventor, had developed a machine capable of reading characters and converting them into a standardized code. During this same time period, an Irish astrophysicist and chemist named Edmund Fournier d’Albe, had developed a handheld scanner, that when used on a printed page would emit tones corresponding to each individual letter or character.

In the early 2000’s, OCR began making its first appearances in modern technology, as it was promoted as an online software service, a cloud computing solution, and began to appear in mobile software such as language translation applications.

OCR Today

Since its original inception in the 1800’s, OCR technology has grown from simple character recognition tools into widely used and specialized technologies, capable of enhancing numerous business processes.

Some practical uses for optical character recognition include:

  • Data entry for important documentation, including: invoices, bank statements, HR files, etc.
  • Transforming electronic images of printed documents into searchable electronic records – an ideal solution for managing large amounts of important files
  • Automating the extraction of important information from physical records
  • Quickly transforming printed documents such as books into easily accessible and editable content – saving companies valuable time and resources required to recreate documents
  • Providing assistive technology for visually impaired persons

While optical character recognition is still far from perfect, it certainly has illustrated itself as an intuitive and vital technology for the future. As OCR technology continues to improve in accuracy and efficiency, these applications will undoubtedly change how we interact with digital documents, business processes, and perhaps even one another.

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