Microsoft published an AI-generated travel article about Ottawa, Canada that prominently recommended tourists visit the Ottawa Food Bank, as spotted by Paris Marx, but it pulled that version of the story after we published this article. The food bank was the No. 3 recommendation on the list, sitting behind the National War Memorial and above going to an Ottawa Senators hockey game.
Here is the Ottawa Food Bank’s website if you would like to donate — it recently moved to a new location due to demand that has spiked by 85 percent since 2019. While support is encouraged, CEO Rachael Wilson told CBC in June, “Our hope is one day to close our doors … to reduce the number of people who need a food bank.”
Each section in the article, which was bylined vaguely by “Microsoft Travel,” had a brief text description of what you can expect from the destination. For the food bank, Microsoft’s summary included an astoundingly awful statement given the context of the place it was talking about: “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.”
“Needless to say, this is not the type of messaging or ‘story’ we would ever put out or wish to be included in,” Samantha Koziara, communications manager at the Ottawa Food Bank, said in a statement to The Verge. “The ‘empty stomach’ line is clearly insensitive and didn’t pass by a (human) editor. 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 inaccurate / inappropriate references will be made in listicles such as this. This simply highlights the importance of researchers, writers, and editors… of the human variety.”
“Every day our algorithms comb through hundreds of thousands of pieces of content sent by our partners,” Microsoft writes in the “About Us” page for its Microsoft Start program. “We process it to understand dimensions like freshness, category, topic type, opinion content and potential popularity and publish according to user preferences. This is combined with human oversight to ensure that the content we show aligns with our values and that crucial information features prominently in our experiences.”
Update August 17th, 7:09PM ET: Added statement from Microsoft.