ChatGPT for Shiga travel advice, not there yet

I’ve been experimenting with AI chatbots ChatGPT and Google Bard and AI image generators such as Bing Image Creator for creating text and image content related to Japan and Shiga Prefecture. The results have been mixed if not entertaining, but too often disappointing due to frequent factual errors. I’m afraid it doesn’t live up to all the media hype with regard to travel advice.

AI chatbots work by you typing a text inquiry in conversational English and it replies with an answer. Although it’s impressive that it can understand conversational English and respond in conversational English, the answer often contains errors. Not only that, it also creates fake information fabricated from thin (cyber) air. They are called “hallucinations.”

Both ChatGPT and Bard have a disclaimer saying that they can make mistakes: “ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts.” Very true. This means it’s not geared for travel information or advice.

When I asked ChatGPT to create a three-day itinerary for bicycling around Lake Biwa, it made numerous errors. It suggested that I start in Hikone, then cycle to Nagahama and stopover in Nagahama the first night. That is too short a ride for one day.

For the second day of cycling, it recommended that I ride through Imazu and Chomeiji and visit the Miho Museum and stop by the Shigaraki Pottery Village. Nope, these places are on opposite sides of the lake and too far apart for one day.

For Day 3, it recommended that I visit “Hikone Aquarium, known for its dolphin and sea lion shows.” No such thing as Hikone Aquarium. Dolphins and sea lions in Shiga?? Where did it get that??

I asked where I could rent a bicycle in Shiga. It didn’t mention Maibara Station. I asked why, and ChatGPT said “because Maibara has no train stations.” Can you believe that??

I asked how to get to Shiga from Tokyo. It correctly stated that I can take the shinkansen to Kyoto or Osaka, then transfer to a local train or bus to Shiga. However, it didn’t mention taking the shinkansen to Maibara Station. Because in the ChatGPT universe, the city of Maibara has no train stations! See the errors in the sample responses below.

Wow, I was shocked. Such basic facts easily found on Wikipedia, etc., is not even in ChatGPT’s enormous knowledge base.

When I asked ChatGPT to list the Nakasendo post towns in Shiga, it failed to list them all and also mixed in Tokaido post towns.

I also asked ChatGPT to list tourist attractions in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture. However, it also included tourist sights in Kusatsu, Gunma Prefecture. Bard did the same thing.

I asked Google Bard to tell me about Chikubushima, and it got almost everything right except for “The island is also said to be the site of a battle between the gods Susanoo and Orochi.” No, that battle occurred in Shimane Prefecture.

It would be great if we could use AI chatbots to help plan our trips, and travel writers and tourist websites use it to help write their articles and PR blurbs. However, as of this writing, it’s still not good enough for travel planning nor travel writing. Don’t believe anyone saying that ChatGPT can plan a trip for you. Travel information is still a weak point in AI chatbots.

If you’re asking for factual information, you need to check everything the AI chatbot says in the reply. You never know what errors or fiction it may include. You need to be an expert to catch the errors. I’m afraid non-experts will tend to accept most chatbot answers as is and not take the time and effort to check the answer. A flawed travel itinerary can easily lead to major problems.

It’s similar to the situation we have with machine translation. People who are monolingual cannot spot the silly and serious errors in the translations and tend to use the machine translation for public consumption anyway. This is prevalent in Japan’s local government websites and tourism websites.

Likewise, non-experts will be almost be blind to ChatGPT’s errors and “hallucinations” in its responses. Factual responses need to be checked. Since ChatGPT writes so well and authoritatively, errors will be harder for non-experts to spot.

Machine translation will never achieve the perfection we seek, but we know its limitations and have learned how to make it useful. For example, it’s good for translating lists of words and simple sentences. I believe the same will happen with AI chatbots. They will never be perfect, but we will figure out how to make it useful.

Travel writers/bloggers can use it to create rough drafts when writing about specific tourist attractions, restaurants, and places. Japan’s travel industry can use it to create better tourism PR text in English. Instead of translating Japanese PR text into English (which rarely turns out well), they can describe what they want in the English, specify the overall tone, the text length, and get a decent English text that reads better than any translation of Japanese text. They could also have ChatGPT rewrite or correct existing English text to make it more effective. Of course, everything still needs to be checked.

Hopefully AI chatbots will improve to become more aware of the real world and to stop fabricating facts. We still cannot rule out old-fashioned online searches to find answers to our most important travel questions.

One thing that impressed me was ChatGPT’s ability to compose poems. After telling it in detail what I wanted to express in the poem, it did so quite well, complete with rhyming words. Took only some seconds to do it. Google Bard admitted that ChatGPT was better at creative things such as composing poetry. lol

AI chatbots are also good for people learning English since they can converse with you almost like a human. When they become compatible with the Japanese language, I can imagine they will be good for people studying Japanese too. Just don’t divulge any personal information or private information.

AI is still a rapidly developing technology and although there are people worried about potential problems, there are also potential positive uses. Have to keep experimenting to see how it can help you. Just don’t use it to cheat in your school essays or homework or write fake interviews.

AI-generated images

AI-generated image of swan maiden in Lake Yogo
AI-generated image of swan maiden in Lake Yogo.

Another thing I’ve been playing around with is AI-generated images. Lots of fun. You just type a text description (called “prompt”) of the image you want, and it creates a set of images as manga art, digital art, ukiyoe art, or photorealistic art. The results are entertaining, and always a hit or miss. You never know what you’re gonna get.

I’ve posted a few AI-generated, Shiga images on this blog post. Biggest complaint is that human faces and figures are usually distorted. They may also have missing fingers or limbs. Most images have small details which don’t look right. They also cannot correctly generate text in the images.

Also, it cannot accurately render real-life scenery except for very famous scenery like Mt. Fuji. It doesn’t know what Mt. Ibuki looks like, and the shinkansen is rendered as a generic high-speed train. Such images are not really necessary anyway since I already have real-life photos of it.

But AI-generated images can be useful to illustrate folktales and legends like the swan maiden at Lake Yogo (see sample image above) or the toilet goddess based on the hit Japanese song. Suitable images always make a blog post or website more attractive. Generating swan maiden images was a little difficult because the image generator does not allow any nudity. “Swan maiden bathing in the lake” results in a content warning and no images are created.

And so AI-generated text and images are not perfect and do have their limits which make me believe that the technology won’t put writers or illustrators out of work. It will likely serve as a tool to help them in their work like machine translation helping pro translators and the public. The issue of artist copyrights linger though.

Bing Image Creator is one major free AI image generator powered by Open AI’s DALL-E. (Microsoft login is required.)

Paid services for AI-generated images do a better job at rendering humans. They can look realistic, but often too perfect and plastic. I’ve come to prefer manga art images because the distorted faces and mistaken details are less noticeable or more tolerable than photorealistic images.

ChatGPT is free and anybody can register to use it. It only requires your email address, password, and phone number for a confirmation message.

Google Bard requires a Google account which most people already have. They might put you on a waiting list first, but I got in quickly.

If you haven’t tried using AI yet, I highly recommend giving it a spin. Have fun.

Sample Errors (ChatGPT)

Here are a few sample Shiga travel inquiries I made to ChatGPT and the inaccurate answers highlighted in red.

Inquiry: Suggest a three-day travel itinerary for bicycling around Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, Japan.

AI-generated image of cycling around Biwako in autumn.
AI-generated image of cycling around Biwako in autumn.

ChatGPT response:
Sure! Lake Biwa, located in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, is the largest freshwater lake in Japan and offers beautiful scenery, historic temples, and delicious local cuisine. Bicycling around Lake Biwa is a popular activity, and here’s a suggested three-day itinerary:

Day 1:
Morning: Arrive in Shiga Prefecture and rent bicycles near the lake.
Afternoon: Start your cycling journey from the eastern shore of Lake Biwa in Hikone. Visit Hikone Castle, a well-preserved feudal castle with beautiful gardens, and take a leisurely ride along the lakeside, enjoying the panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Stop by Nagahama, a picturesque town known for its historic district and traditional craft shops.
Evening: Stay overnight in Nagahama or nearby and enjoy local cuisine such as Omi beef, a premium Japanese beef known for its marbling and tenderness.

Day 2:
Morning: Continue your cycling trip along the western shore of Lake Biwa. Visit the Shirahige Shrine, a picturesque shrine located on a small island in the lake, and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere. Ride through scenic lakeside towns like Imazu and Chomeiji, and take a break at one of the lakeside parks or beaches.
Afternoon: Visit the Miho Museum, a renowned museum showcasing Japanese and Asian art, nestled in the scenic Shigaraki Mountains. You can also stop by the Shigaraki Pottery Village, known for its traditional ceramics.
Evening: Stay overnight in Otsu, the capital city of Shiga Prefecture, which offers a range of accommodations and dining options.

Day 3:
Morning: Explore Otsu and its historic sites, including the Omi Jingu Shrine, which is dedicated to Emperor Tenji, and the nearby Ishiyama-dera Temple, one of Japan’s oldest temples known for its beautiful autumn foliage. You can also take a boat cruise on Lake Biwa for a different perspective.
Afternoon: Cycle back to Hikone along the eastern shore of Lake Biwa, enjoying the last leg of your journey. Visit the Hikone Aquarium, known for its dolphin and sea lion shows, and take a stroll in Genkyu-en Garden, a traditional Japanese landscape garden.
Evening: Return your bicycles and depart from Shiga Prefecture.

Please note that cycling distances and attractions may vary based on your pace and interests, so feel free to adjust the itinerary to suit your preferences. Also, be sure to check local regulations and weather conditions before embarking on your cycling adventure. Happy travels!

Inaccuracies: On Day 1, lodging in Nagahama so soon after starting from Hikone is not practical. On Day 2, it says “Ride through scenic lakeside towns like Imazu and Chomeiji” and visit the Miho Museum and stop by the Shigaraki Pottery Village. These places are too far apart to visit in one day. On Day 3, “Hikone Aquarium, known for its dolphin and sea lion shows” is totally fiction.

Inquiry: On Day 1, where can I rent a bicycle?

ChatGPT response:
There are several places where you can rent bicycles near Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. Here are a few options:

Hikone Station: Hikone Station, located in the city of Hikone, is a major transportation hub and a convenient place to rent bicycles. There are several bicycle rental shops in the vicinity of Hikone Station where you can rent bicycles for a day or longer.

Nagahama Station: Nagahama Station, located in the town of Nagahama, is another convenient location to rent bicycles. There are rental shops near the station where you can choose from a variety of bicycles, including mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, and electric bikes.

Otsu Station: Otsu Station, located in the city of Otsu, is the capital city of Shiga Prefecture and offers bicycle rental services as well. You can find bicycle rental shops near Otsu Station that cater to tourists and offer various types of bicycles to suit your needs.

Bicycle Sharing Programs: Some cities around Lake Biwa, such as Hikone and Otsu, have bicycle sharing programs where you can rent bicycles from designated stations and return them at other stations within the same city. These programs often require registration and provide a convenient way to rent bicycles for short-term use.

It’s recommended to inquire about rental prices, availability, and any specific requirements or regulations at the rental shops or bicycle sharing programs in advance to ensure a smooth experience.

Inaccuracies: No mention of renting a bicycle at Maibara Station.

Inquiry: Where can I rent a bicycle in Maibara?

ChatGPT response:
My apologies, there was a mistake in my previous response. Maibara is a city located on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, and it is a great starting point for cycling around Lake Biwa. Unfortunately, Maibara does not have a train station, so renting a bicycle directly in Maibara may be limited. However, there are alternative options nearby. Here are some suggestions:

Otsu Station: Otsu Station is the capital city of Shiga Prefecture and a major transportation hub. It is located about 20 kilometers south of Maibara and has multiple bicycle rental shops near the station. You can take a train from Maibara Station to Otsu Station and rent a bicycle there.

Hikone Station: Hikone Station is located about 15 kilometers north of Maibara and is another option for renting bicycles. Hikone is a historic castle town and a popular starting point for cycling around Lake Biwa. You can take a train from Maibara Station to Hikone Station and rent a bicycle there.

Inaccuracies: “Unfortunately, Maibara does not have a train station” is a major error. Then in the same answer, it says I can take a train from Maibara Station to Otsu Station. Also, Hikone is located south of Maibara, not north.

AI-generated photorealistic image of rowers on Lake Biwa. Rowers and their oars are inaccurate. Unknown if the background scenery actually exists.
AI-generated photorealistic image of rowers on Lake Biwa. Rowers and their oars are inaccurate. Unknown if the background scenery actually exists.
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