Don’t Break The Bank. Food Bank Instead

If you find yourself in Ottawa this summer, do be sure to make some time to visit one of the city’s best dining spots. The Food Bank.

Microsoft took down an article from its sprawling web empire that recommended travelers visit the Ottawa Food Bank on an empty stomach as a tourist attraction in the Canadian capital.
The story, published on MSN and headlined “Headed to Ottawa? Here’s what you shouldn’t miss,” listed 15 places to stop by. Most of the suggestions were pretty sensible, such as checking out the National Gallery of Ottawa, or the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest ice skating rink stretching nearly five miles long.
One recommendation, however, was particularly half-baked. The Ottawa Food Bank. Yeah, how about going to a food bank on your vacation?
Here’s how that hot location was described in the article, written under the byline “Microsoft Travel”:
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.
The Windows titan later dumped the page, though you can view it here thanks to the Internet Archive’s irreplaceable Wayback Machine.

Microsoft blamed the entry on human error, which is ever so slightly better than saying that they’ve been secretly letting AI run amok, I guess. Maybe. Possibly. Perhaps. Who even knows? There’s no winning for them here, honestly.

“This article has been removed and we have identified that the issue was due to human error,” a spokesperson said. “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.”

Might I humbly suggest that part of that work involve ensuring that there are enough people on staff with enough time to, like, read things and stuff? Not as cheap and easy as laying thousands of people off, but likely more productive in the long run assuming the goal is to be any sort of credible news outlet.

There’s an aspect of this food bank thing that’s kind of funny in a vacuum, but we’re not in a vacuum. Over and over again, news organizations are being busted for letting AI make mistakes. Just scroll through the entire article I linked. It has a nice handful of examples. And that’s just a start. As more and more executives figure out that they might be able to wring a few more dollars worth of shareholder value out of letting computers do work that reporters and editors should be doing, this is only going to get worse. Today’s show up hungry to the poor people pantry is tomorrow’s breaking news!” this guy is dead and we’ll lie to prove it.

I realize we’re not getting rid of AI. That’s not even what I’m advocating here. But it would have been nice to be able to believe that there had been even a hint of serious discussion about the ramifications of unleashing it on the public in the ways it has been up to this point. If there was, it’s becoming clearer by the day that nobody who matters listened to any of it. And why would they? There’s no time for that. You can’t be careful when you have to be first. That’s just how society tends to work, sadly. All dollars, not a lot of sense.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.