Microsoft’s AI-Written Travel Article Suggested a Trip to the Ottawa Food Bank

Microsoft blamed "human error" but pulled the article

Canadian flag waving in front of the Parliament Building on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. A new AI-generated travel article suggested tourists visit the Ottawa Food Bank.
An AI-written news piece suggested one of the top places to visit in Ottawa was a food bank
Jason Hafso / Unsplash

An article put together by artificial intelligence utilized by Microsoft was retracted after readers discovered the bot had suggested a food bank as a tourist attraction. Per Engadget, the AI-written article (“Headed to Ottawa? Here’s what you shouldn’t miss!”) recommended a baseball game, a war museum and the Ottawa Food Bank. The AI piece was initially discovered by Twitter/X user (and “critic of tech futures”) Paris Marx, who noted that the article suggested readers “[go] into it on an empty stomach.”

The article, which appeared on the AI-aggregated news service Microsoft Start, has since been taken down, though you can see a copy of it here. In a statement to The Verge, Microsoft blamed humans. “This article has been removed and we have identified that the issue was due to human error,” they wrote. “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 the future.”

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A representative for the Ottawa Food Bank had a more thoughtful reply. “As AI gets more and more popular, I don’t doubt an increased number of inaccurate/inappropriate references will be made in listicles such as this,” said Samantha Koziara, communications manager at the Ottawa Food Bank, in a statement. “This simply highlights the importance of researchers, writers and editors…of the human variety.”

To donate to the Ottawa Food Bank, head here. And whatever type of tech Microsoft was using, a reminder that the company started laying off human editors and writers (and embracing AI) three years ago, well before the current obsession with generative AI and ChatGPT, which still doesn’t seem like a great replacement for human writers.


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