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The First OCR System: "GISMO" (1951)

In 1951 American inventor David Hammond Shepard, a cryptanalyst at AFSA, the forerunner of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), built "Gismo" in his spare time.

Gismo was a machine to convert printed messages into machine language for processing by computer— the first optical character recognition (OCR) system.

"IBM licensed the [OCR] machine, but never put it into production. Shepard designed the Farrington B numeric font now used on most credit cards. Recognition was more reliable on a simple and open font, to avoid the effects of smearing at gasoline station pumps. Reading credit cards was the first major industry use of OCR, although today the information is read magnetically from the back of the cards.

"In 1962 Shepard founded Cognitronics Corporation. In 1964 his patented 'Conversation Machine' was the first to provide telephone Interactive voice response access to computer stored data using speech recognition. The first words recognized were 'yes' and 'no' " (Wikipedia article on David H. Shepard, accessed 02-29-2012).