In 1951 American inventor David Hammond Shepard, a cryptanalyst at the Armed Forces Security Agency (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. The machine is known primarily from U.S. Patent 2,663,758 applied for by Shepard on March 1, 1951, and patented on December 22, 1953. The patent is titled Apparatus for Reading.
Shepard introduced his patent as follows:
"This invention relates to methods and apparatus for interpreting information and the like. Briefly, the invention relates to so-called read ing apparatus arranged to sense printed charac ters, punched openings and the like and to recog nize the identity of particular characters Ol' other items passing before the Sensing means So that these items may be reproduced in various for is Of coding. For example, the invention may be embodied in a machine which Will scan a Orinted page such as typewritten page and produce Sig nals which will serve to interpret each character into any desired coding and mediu? for use at local or remote stations.
"While many arrangements are presentiy known for reading characters, none of the knoWin ar rangements serve adequately to read many vari eties of printed characters, nor do knowin arranger ments make adequate provision for misalignment of characters or disfiguration of characters.
"By my invention hereafter set out in greater detail, I provide apparatus which is capable ci reading any sort of information which may be sensed such as printing or the like, and to do SO even though the characters representing the in formation may be disfigured and/or incorrectly aligned. By my invention, it is also possible to distinguish among many more characters of an alphabet than is possible with known reading de vices.
"Accordingly, an object of my invention is to provide improved methods and apparatus for reading and interpreting printed or other information into various media.
"A further object of my invention is to provide improved reading apparatus which is capable of distinguishing among a much larger number of characters than is possible with presently known equipment.
"A further object of my invention, when photo electric scanning may be employed, is to provide an electric circuit arrangement to compensate for changes in the output of a photoelectric or other light sensitive device.
"A further object of my invention is to provide methods and apparatus for reading Wherein the matter to be read is continuously and rapidly scanned to accommodate a large number of indications which are then conbined and aihalyzed to provide recognition....
"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).