For The Love Of God, Don't Let AI Choose Your Mushrooms

Artificial intelligence isn't a reliable source of information. Why trust it with your life?

Anyone who decides to forage mushrooms should understand the risks in making mistakes. Misidentify something, and you're going to be on the ground clutching your stomach—or worse. That's why you need the guidance of an expert forager, either someone leading you through the forest in person or publishing books with a proven safety record. At the very least, the book should be written by a human.

404 Media reports that expert mushroom foragers are sounding the alarm about AI-generated foraging guides being sold on Amazon. Despite the current discourse hyping up the awesome power of artificial intelligence, applications such as ChatGPT are prone to making mistakes, since they're trained to mimic human speech rather than fact-check or verify. With phony guides proliferating online, experts warn that relying on such books could result in illness or even death.

Why expert mushroom foragers are concerned about AI

"There are hundreds of poisonous fungi in North America and several that are deadly," Sigrid Jakob, president of the New York Mycological Society, tells 404 Media. "They can look similar to popular edible species. A poor description in a book can mislead someone to eat a poisonous mushroom." Yikes.


It's certainly true that reliable foraging information is crucial not just because there are many varieties of harmful fungi, but also because many poisonous mushrooms resemble the safe ones that are commonly eaten (or at least sought after by foragers). Encyclopedia Britannica notes that a majority of the top seven most poisonous mushrooms in the world look like ones people seek out to cook and eat, and the results from eating the dupes aren't pretty. 

The author of the 404 article, Samantha Cole (co-founder of 404 Media), took passages from some questionable-looking online mushroom foraging guides and put it through ZeroGPT, a tool that determines whether a piece of text was written by artificial intelligence. ZeroGPT determined that the books she tested were almost entirely AI-generated. Cole contacted Amazon, who subsequently removed the books from the marketplace. However, there's no guarantee that others won't spring up to take their place, and every time someone relies on them, they're putting themselves at serious risk of harm.


Most mushroom foragers know to be very careful when it comes to identifying wild mushrooms for harvesting. But if you're just starting out, it's best to look for verified, expert-endorsed literature on the topic. The extra few minutes of research is worth it to avoid poisoning yourself, right?