They are a bit rubbish, true. Most of them have a "speak the letters" facility, mind you.
On the other hand, I'd rather type in a few characters to validate myself every now and again, to avoid putting up with spam coming out of my ears.
But I do get where you're coming from, Darren. One would imagine it's not beyond the wit of man to invent something a little more "human user" friendly, and even less "robot user" friendly at the same time.
You have your next challenge, Darren... Off you go, mate. Clock's ticking.
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They are ridiculously annoying. However, sadly it's a needed evil. Anything too easy to read would also be easy for an automated program to read, defying the purpose. If only there were no spammers in the world...
Most of the time I don't have a problem with them - but every now and again there's one that is completely and utterly undecipherable or uses such a stupid font that you can't tell the S from a 5, etc.
I believe Google recently bought the main company that runs them and is using it as character recognition research for its books service.