Optical Character Recognition: How text in a picture becomes usable

Chad Underwood
3 min readSep 14, 2022

In 2008 a small company called Evernote made a big impact on the note taking industry.

I remember installing Evernote. I would snap pictures of things I needed to remember. Then I would save them to my Evernote account.

I remember this because Evernote introduced me to Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Because Evernote had OCR, I was able to search my Evernote account to find relevant text in the photos saved to my account. Evernote was saving me time. I didn’t need to type my notes.

Instead, I just took a photo of it and OCR was able to find the photo.

OCR is the technology allowing computers to scan the contents of photos for text.

Photo by Adrian Pranata on Unsplash

I was surprised by someone this week didn’t know OCR existed so I wanted to share more with you.

This tech allows computers to get the text content of a photo and covert it to language the computer understands. Like the example of Evernote above you can use it to search for text in photos. The best part is you can use it to copy from and paste to a page. The phone operating systems even allow you to save calendar dates, and make phone calls straight from the pictures.

OCR is becoming a tech we use everyday in our lives.

OCR — a history lesson

Optical Character Recognition was credited to Ray Kurzweil in 1974.

He wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea. But he was the first to be able to make OCR recognize any font. He eventually sold his company to Xerox. OCR gained popularity in the 90s when newspaper publishers want to start digitizing their historical print newspapers.

OCR has had major improvements since then.

OCR is used in plain sight but hidden

OCR is used in many places where humans can’t process documents quick enough.

  • Police use OCR to check license plates while driving. The scanner reads the license plate and then brings up information about the car in real time.
  • The Post Office uses this tech to scan the writing on envelopes. This allows…

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Chad Underwood

American writer sharing experiences in life, writing, technology, and content creation.