AI-generated travel advice directs tourists to Canadian food bank

Tourists have been advised to visit a food bank while travelling through Ottawa.

Tourists have been advised to visit a food bank while travelling through Ottawa. Photo: Ottawa Food Bank/Getty

Tech giant Microsoft was left red-faced after a travel article produced by artificial intelligence and published by the company made an odd recommendation to tourists visiting Canada.

Published on Microsoft Start, the company’s online news service, the article touts the top 15 must-visit locations for people spending time in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city.

Sitting at No. 3 is a visit to the Ottawa Food Bank, listed as a “beautiful attraction” between Canada’s National War Memorial (No. 2) and ice hockey games (No. 4).

“We observe how hunger impacts men, women, and children on a daily basis, and how it may be a barrier to achievement,” the AI-generated article reads.

“People who come to us have jobs and families to support, as well as expenses to pay. Life is already difficult enough. Consider going into it on an empty stomach.”

While food banks certainly have an important role to play in keeping struggling people fed, the inclusion in the tourist guide raised eyebrows.

The article comes after Microsoft decided to replace human journalists with AI in 2020.

Can’t blame humans

While Microsoft had already been paying outside news organisations to use their content rather than generate its own, it had previously employed journalists to choose stories.

“Showing once again that AI is about as ‘I’ as the tech bros training it,” one X user posted in reaction to the Ottawa attraction listicle.

“It looks like the ’empty stomach’ phrase was scraped from text on the food bank site asking people to support them and donate. Somehow that makes it even worse,” another wrote.

Jeff Jones, Microsoft senior director, told The Verge the article has been removed, and the company is investigating how it made it through Microsoft’s review process.

At the time of writing, TND found the original link to the article no longer works, but the piece can still be accessed through a different link.

While the article has provided some publicity for the food bank, Samantha Koziara, Ottawa Food Bank communications manager, told  The Verge it is not a story the organisation wants to be included in.

“The ’empty stomach’ line is clearly insensitive and didn’t pass by a [human] editor,” she said.

“To my knowledge, we haven’t seen something like this before – but as AI gets more and more popular, I don’t doubt an increased number [of] inaccurate [or] inappropriate references will be made in listicles such as this.

“This simply highlights the importance of researchers, writers, and editors … of the human variety.”

AI-generated stuff-ups

This is not the first time AI-generated news content has made a significant blunder.

Earlier this month, a Daily Telegraph AI-generated update on Sydney traffic published at 3:15pm showed traffic alerts listed in the future, such as an incident recorded at 4:14pm.

In January, CNET came under fire for AI-generated stories that contained incorrect financial information.

Also this year, an AI-generated piece posted to Gizmodo‘s entertainment section io9 was meant to list all of the Star Wars movies and shows in chronological order. It failed to do so – and left a few projects out altogether.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.