Apparent AI travel article leaves Microsoft red-faced

According to a recent article posted by Microsoft Travel on microsoft.com, attractions worth checking out on a visit to the Canadian capital of Ottawa include the National War Memorial, Parliament Hill, Fairmont Château Laurier, Ottawa Food Bank … hang on, Ottawa Food Bank?

Spotted in recent days by Canada-based tech writer Paris Marx, the article is believed to have been created by generative artificial intelligence (AI) and clearly failed to receive a human check before appearing on the site. The entire article has now been taken down, though an archived version of it is available here.

The food bank appears at number 3 in a list of 15 must-see places in the Canadian city. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the accompanying description even suggests visiting it “on an empty stomach.”

Here’s the description in full:

“Ottawa Food Bank — The organization has been collecting, purchasing, producing, and delivering food to needy people and families in the Ottawa area since 1984. We observe how hunger impacts men, women, and children on a daily basis, and how it may be a barrier to achievement. 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.”

A screenshot of a Microsoft travel article.
Microsoft

With its insertion into the travel article clearly an error — and an awful one at that — it seems likely that the piece was knocked together using generative AI, a technology that we know Microsoft has a huge interest in.

The tech giant has been making major investments in OpenAI, the Silicon Valley startup that launched the AI-powered and hugely popular ChatGPT chatbot in November last year, a tool noted for its ability to converse in a human-like way and produce high-quality text, though the fledgling technology still has a tendency to occasionally spit out erroneous or nonsensical information.

Still, Microsoft is so keen on generative AI that it’s already incorporated it into its Bing search engine and Edge browser, among other products.

But in the case of its travel article, the company appears to have fallen short on several counts. First, it failed to perform proper human checks on the article before posting it, and second, if it was generated by AI, nowhere on the article does it state this.

The mishap demonstrates the continuing need for human oversight with AI-generated content. Slip ups can be costly, as evidenced by a recent case in New York City in which a lawyer used ChatGPT to find examples of legal cases that he then included in a document to support a client’s case. But it was later found that ChatGPT had made them all up.

Digital Trends has reached out to Microsoft for more information on its bizarre travel article and we will update here after it gets back to us.

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