Mushroom Poisoning A Risk When Relying on AI Generated Field Guides
Concern has been growing that new foragers might eat a poisonous mushroom if relying on foraging guides written by artificial intelligence (AI).
In fact, samples of these books score up to 100% on AI detection scores.
Casting further doubt as to their credibility, the author biographies were also AI generated, complete with fake photos, claims of prestigious college degrees, books purportedly also written by the author, and bogus endorsements by respected mycologists.
AI Spawns Misinformation
Amazon, the maker of Kindle, is by far the largest retailer of literature, commanding up to 80% of the market, particularly in the category of e-books which are designed to be consumed electronically. In 2007 they launched Kindle Direct publishing, which allows anyone to publish a physical or e-book without an agent or traditional publishing company, and share the profits with Kindle.
This platform has become the breeding ground for the largest literature controversy in recent history, plagued with questions of plagiarism and misinformation amid no checks or balances. It has become possible to self-publish and sell an E-book about wild mushroom foraging in Canada, using AI generated content, and even using the name of a well-known foraging expert to lend you credibility!
Is AI Good or Bad?
Artificial intelligence describes the development of machines with the ability to perform tasks that, until now only humans could do such as problem solving, recognizing speech, making decisions, and creating art and music.
A part of our daily lives for many years, AI helps Netflix to pinpoint what you will want to watch next, and is the technology behind self-driving cars. In some ways, AI makes our lives easier, even safer – like Driver assistance technologies that reduce traffic crashes and save thousands of lives each year.
But relying on Artificial Intelligence also raises concerns. In the fall 2023 issue of Mycelium, a newsletter put out by the Mycological Society of Toronto, Sara Scharf cautions:
AI is Not Vetted
AI generated creations are not gibberish. This technology combs the internet, finds authoritative sources on a topic, and is capable of producing materials about mycology that could be difficult to differentiate from books written by legitimate authors.
The difference is in vetting the important details. Who is ensuring AI isn’t making mistakes or presenting incomplete or misleading information about mushroom identification? Those details can mean the difference between life and death for someone harvesting wild mushrooms to eat.
Mushroom identification can be quite complex, and sometimes can’t even be accomplished with the naked eye. We recently discussed the difficulty in identifying Pholiota adiposa in the wild; a microscope is needed to confirm identity using spores.
Accurate, up to date information is crucial when foraging new wild foods, or even harvesting mushrooms cultivated outdoors. Computer generated misinformation could lead an unsuspecting naturalist to consume dangerous mushrooms like the deadly Death Cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides).
How to Find Mushroom Guide Books You Can Trust?
There is no easy way to know what you can trust when using an open-market type platform such as Amazon. Before buying a new mushroom book, search for independent reviews from trusted sources and forums. Amazon, Kindle, Goodreads, and Audible are all connected platforms so be sure to include websites outside of those sources.
Buying from official retailers can also bring the confidence of knowing that the books have been independently vetted by sources you trust, and ask your local mycological society for help.
Grow Mushrooms Canada stocks a line of mushroom field guides and growing guides that we rely on and trust, from respected authorities like Paul Stamets and David Arora.
We are always happy to provide recommendations on which book might be right for you.
Happy and Safe Mushroom Foraging!
Do You Have Any Questions or Books Recommendations?
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