Microsoft has removed an article that advised tourists to visit the “beautiful” Ottawa Food Bank on an empty stomach, after facing ridicule about the company’s reliance on artificial intelligence for news.
Published last week and titled “Headed to Ottawa? Here’s what you shouldn’t miss!” the article listed 15 must-see attractions for visitors to the capital.
The list was rife with errors. It featured a photo of the Rideau River in an entry about the Rideau Canal, and a photo of the Rideau Canal in an entry about Parc Omega near Montebello, Que. It advised tourists to enjoy the pristine grass of “Parliament Hills.”
But the Ottawa Food Bank entry earned the most mockery in technology publications and on social media. The article called the food bank one of Ottawa’s “beautiful attractions,” before putting it third on the list.
Most of the entry simply describes what the food bank does, but it closes with a bizarre recommendation:
“Life is already difficult enough. Consider going into it on an empty stomach.”
That appears to be an out-of-context rewrite of a paragraph on the food bank’s website. “Life is challenging enough,” it says. “Imagine facing it on an empty stomach.”
The article carried the byline “Microsoft Travel.” There is nothing on the page that identifies it as the product of AI, though Microsoft has increasingly cut humans out of its news operations. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how the article was generated.
Microsoft laid off dozens of journalists in 2020 in a move to rely on artificial intelligence, according to multiple news reports at the time. Those journalists were responsible for selecting content for Microsoft platforms, including MSN and the Edge browser.
The strangeness of the Ottawa travel article was first highlighted by an X user called Paris Marx, who posted that “Microsoft is really hitting it out of the park with its AI-generated travel stories!”
That was followed by an article in the Verge, a website focused on technology and science news. The Microsoft Travel article was soon removed, though it remains accessible on an internet archive.
Beyond the geographic errors and the inexplicable recommendation to fast before enjoying the food bank, the article exhibited an unusual writing style. It advised tourists that Winterlude offers them the chance to experience “North America’s largest snow,” while calling the Rideau Canal “naturallyfrozen.”
The article also offered the following insight:
“The Canadian Parliament Buildings are the buildings that house the Parliament of Canada.”