Bad AI (I): Meoweler

Oh boy, where do I even start with this...?

Someone posted yesterday to Hacker News their new project: Meoweler, a cat-themed travel website that's almost entirely auto-generated.

I have written here before about the realistic dangers of AI, predicting that we would see "garbage in any medium that offers even the slightest of rewards, financial or not". And boy was I right...

Here's a short, non-exhaustive list of problems I found with this website:

  • Offensive stereotypes. About half the Argentinean cities I've checked are based on stereotypes about the country, regardless of whether they are even remotely applicable.
  • Offensive pictures. I grew up in not-so-popular cities across the country and I can tell you: I wasn't born in a war-torn city, I didn't go to school in Tatooine, I didn't study in a mirror-like desert, and I didn't go to University on a mountain city. I just lived in perfectly normal, standard, slightly boring cities. But you wouldn't know any of that by looking at the Midjourney-generated illustrations for each one of them.
  • Bad information. I don't care that much that the AI suggests that Potsdam's Brandenburg Gate is a "mini version" of the one with the same name in Berlin (which AFAIK is not true), nor that it talks about getting lost "in the maze-like streets of the Old Town" for the squarest blocks you'll find outside of Manhattan. But when your list of attractions includes sightseeing points in cities more than 200km away... and in a different Province... I hope you remember to bring your good walking shoes.
  • Dangerous information. The site includes an "LGBTQ safety" rating which is auto-generated and not checked against any official source. The guide will also gladly include locations "off the beaten path" that are plain unsafe for a tourist. One such advice suggests "lounging in sunbathed plazas" in a city that Travel Safe - Abroad rates as having a high risk of pickpockets and medium risk for muggings. And while I'm not here to tell you how to live your life, I think "don't" is a solid advice for this situation.

The source code for the website is open, and the license seems to be "do whatever you want with it, no restrictions". And you know what? People will do whatever they want with it: they will spin God-knows how many clones (dog themed, child themed, circus themed, ...), slap ads on it, and the internet will drown a little more in auto-generated, unchecked, ad-ridden SEO garbage.

But hey, at least the website has the tiny footer "Beware, most of the content was generated by AI". So if you end up being robbed at gunpoint because you went "off the beaten path" it will actually be your fault.

One final digression: I decided to check some of the cities listed as "Do not travel" in the US State website and I landed on Kabul, Afghanistan, which the US warns you against visiting due to armed conflict, civil unrest, crime, terrorism, and kidnapping. The AI description reads "Kabul is a friendly city: despite the violence, Kabul residents are extremely hospitable and friendly towards visitors", which to me as a (computational) linguist is fascinating: if the locals are hospitable and friendly, then who is perpetrating "the violence"? Is this sentence blaming foreigners for the situation in Kabul? Can someone kidnap you and be hospitable at the same time? And since we know that a guest who kills their hosts in their own house loses privileged status, does robbing, kidnapping, and maybe murdering your visitors mean that you lose your status as a friendly city?

I would say that I'm maybe overthinking it, but let's be honest: given that no human thought of any kind went into this entire website, literally any attempt at understanding it is, by definition, overthinking.

(I have changed the title of this article to add a "(I)" at the end. I get the feeling this is far from the last entry in this series...)