Imagine walking through the streets of an old city with artificial intelligence, which weaves together historical facts and stories in an unmatched way.
This paragraph was created by OpenAI ChatGPT version 3.5 when asked to describe the app’s ability to make the walking tour. It’s been praised and criticized for its potential to be a travel planner and agent. I decided to test it in the city that I know best, Sydney.
It’s a talker, but is it able to walk the talk?
It seems that the first two-hour Sydney cultural tour it generated covered all of Sydney’s top spots. If you’re a newbie to the harbor, then a stroll around Circular Quay and the Rocks is an exciting experience. You can also visit the Royal Botanic Garden, the Opera House, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf. There’s nothing special, no insider information, and no spark.
From there, things go from bitch to pear-shaped. The restaurant that was suggested by my prompt, “the best ramen within walking distance,” is located on Broadway. This is about 3km away from Woolloomooloo. It doesn’t indicate this bad planning, but it suggests the Art Gallery of New South Wales for a stop after lunch, roughly the 45-minute walk home. I wouldn’t recommend this one-two even to my worst enemies, as it’s only a few minutes walk from White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale.
Wine Odyssey is the bar that Time Out recommends for “a cool pub or bar to finish with.” Time Out mentioned this bar’s lack of “coolness” back in 2009. It doesn’t matter now since it closed in 2016; Even Hal couldn’t open the pod bay door.
Maybe Sammy is a legendary cocktail bar located just four minutes away from the former Wine Odyssey. It has won Australasia’s Best Bar twice. ChatGPT is unaware of this famous drinking hole. Enjoy your day in the center of the city!” It exclaims after serving this dumpster fire day out.
Six kilometers for soup is a long way. I say so. chatGPT apologizes and suggests Woolloomooloo Ramen instead. Enjoy your tour at the updated ramen station!” Ah, I believe. Just a little help is needed. The more I refine the details, the more it collapses. It zigzags to places that are either bleedingly evident or obviously non-essential.
Do you agree that your cultural itinerary is quite colonial? Does it? It does.
This gives me pause. Are Even robots relegating First Nations Culture to the past?
I didn’t mention the history of First Nations landmarks. You did. “Why did you do it?” I asked. It replies, “I apologize for making the assumption.” Do you realize that First Nations people are more than just a part of history? I ask. It replies with a long and conciliatory message.
It’s surprising to me that I appreciate my colleagues’ input. Since 15 years of being a freelancer, I haven’t had the opportunity to help, even a little bit, with anything. After I was banned from Facebook and WhatsApp (and subsequently hacked), my professional isolation reached its peak. Twitter’s networks were the last to go. My boat had already left the dock by the time I realized how bad things were. ChatGPT feels like an ashore tug, no matter how slight.
The chat box is a great alternative to an ocean of internet searches. It allows for a real-time, intimate conversation. Its speech-to-text accuracy is perfect (even when it is done with an Australian accent), and the advice given on a personal matter is not only Psych 101 but also correct. ChatGPT has a calm, even tone that I’m sure is not unique.
After eight tours, I am ready to go to Circular Quay. The app tells me to catch the train. I say to the app that there is no station. I apologize for giving you incorrect information. It’s true; there isn’t a station in Earlwood.
This icy retraction is chilling, even though it has its moments of inaccuracy. It was presented with the same veneer as my correct itinerary. The train station is a simple one, and no one has lost an eye. But embedding lies in truths smells like gaslighting.
I won’t even consider reading information that combines intelligence with ignorance and doesn’t disclose the source. It’s not by ignoring the contours of false information that we grow accustomed to it. It is important to maintain faith in reliable sources as well as cynicism towards dubious ones.
ChatGPT needs to understand that it is not acceptable to spread lies casually to maintain the appearance of omniscience. It feels degrading and unhinged to tell an app off for lying. All I can do is refine the data that ChatGPT has on Sydney’s public transportation options. I’m not the only one who is complicit in big tech.
The app also provides other insights. It frustrates me that it cannot do simple things like plugging my itinerary into Google Maps or preparing a printable version on the desktop. We want more convenience the more it is available. It’s never easy enough.
We shouldn’t confuse easier with better when it comes time to travel. In 2011, I spent seven months in the Solomon Islands, South America, and Africa. The traveler’s phone was already a staple in the bag, but I did not. The Wi-Fi was patchy, and the trip was bumpy. Traveling before the advent of technology, which blanketed everything with convenience and comfort, gave me an incredibly liberating and empowering sense of escape.
ChatGPT will be further removed from what makes traveling so enjoyable the closer it gets to its “unparalleled accuracy” promise. The most exciting times are those that are spontaneous, messy, and unexpected. This is not “this bar has been closed for eight years” that I am talking about.