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WTF?! It isn't just generative AI that occasionally gets things very wrong. Microsoft search engine Bing told some users yesterday that the country of Australia doesn't exist, repeating a jokey (to some) conspiracy theory that has been circulating online since 2017 – though its source could date back even further.
Australian users of Bluesky and Mastodon were surprised yesterday to find Bing was informing them that the country they were in didn't actually exist.
As reported by The Guardian, Microsoft's search engine was answering the unusual query about the world's sixth-largest country with an emphatic "No." Bing stated this was according to several sources.
The conspiracy theory about Australia's non-existence can reportedly be traced back to a user on the Flat Earth Society forum – where else – who said everything about the country was made up, pictures were faked, and anyone who claimed to be from there was really a secret government agent. One would imagine this was someone trolling, but who knows, given its source.
There was then a Facebook post that claimed Australia is "one of the biggest hoaxes ever created," a conspiracy thought up by the British to make people think that criminals were sent there instead of being thrown into the sea.
"It's a coverup for one of the greatest mass murders in history, made by one of the most prominent empires... Australia is not real. It's a codeword for the cold blooded murder of more than a hundred thousand people, and it is not okay. We will not, accept this. Stand up for the ones who died. Let it be known, that Australia does not exist," the post read. It was deleted after the author received 100 or so death threats from angry Australians.
We're used to seeing these sorts of factually incorrect and just plain weird statements spouted by generative AIs, but what's most surprising about all this is that Bing co-pilot, formerly Bing Chat, confirmed Australia is real. It also noted that there are conspiracy theories surrounding the country's existence, but these are not true and have been debunked.
A spokesperson for Microsoft said the Bing issue had been addressed. "Thank you for bringing this to our attention," the spokesperson said. "We've investigated this query and have rolled out a fix to address it."
Anyone who believes that the land down under isn't real will probably see Bing's error as further proof, tragically. However, our own Steve Walton and Tim Schiesser will likely have something to say about that.