A recent MSN travel guide for Ottawa in Canada, created with the aid of generative AI, mistakenly listed the Ottawa Food Bank as a top tourist attraction. The guide, titled “Headed to Ottawa? Here's what you shouldn't miss!” published on MSN under Microsoft Travel, advised readers to visit the Ottawa Food Bank, an NGO that has been serving the needy since 1984. The AI-created travel guide further suggested that visitors should consider “going into it on an empty stomach” a statement that was taken out of context from the Food Bank's description.
The Ottawa Food Bank
The Ottawa Food Bank has been actively serving the community since 1984, providing food to those in need. The organization has witnessed an 85% increase in demand since 2019. CEO Rachael Wilson expressed the hope that one day the need for food banks would diminish, reflecting a more prosperous society.
Public Reaction and Statements
The error was first noticed by Paris Marx, who shared it on social media platforms, including X (Twitter) and Bluesky. The AI's recommendation drew criticism and attention from various quarters. Samantha Koziara, the Communications Manager at the Ottawa Food Bank, expressed to The Verge that such messaging was not something they would ever endorse. She emphasized the importance of human oversight in content creation, especially when AI is involved. Jeff Jones, a Senior Director at Microsoft, responded dby stating that the article had been removed and an investigation was underway to determine how it bypassed their review process.
Microsoft is really hitting it out of the park with its AI-generated travel stories! If you visit Ottawa, it highly recommends the Ottawa Food Bank and provides a great tip for tourists: “Consider going into it on an empty stomach.” https://t.co/7bvGemDad2
— Paris Marx (@parismarx) August 17, 2023
In a later statement, Jeff Jones revealed that the recommendation articles had not been automatically published by AI but crafted in “a combination of algorithmic techniques with human review”:
“This article has been removed and we have identified that the issue was due to human error. The article was not published by an unsupervised AI. We combine the power of technology with the experience of content editors to surface stories. In this case, the content was generated through a combination of algorithmic techniques with human review, not a large language model or AI system. We are working to ensure this type of content isn't posted in future.”
AI in Content Creation
The use of AI in content creation has been a topic of debate. While AI can generate vast amounts of content quickly, the lack of context and understanding can lead to errors, as seen in this incident. Other publishers have also faced challenges with AI-generated content, highlighting the need for a balanced approach that combines the capabilities of AI with human judgment and oversight.
Background on Microsoft's AI Initiatives
Microsoft has been increasingly integrating AI-generated content into its online publications and services. The company had previously laid off journalists at Microsoft News and MSN in 2020, replacing them with artificial intelligence. This incident underscores the challenges and potential pitfalls of relying heavily on AI for content generation without adequate human oversight.