"It can literally mean life or death."
If you're considering a foray into amateur mushroom foraging, maybe reconsider shopping for your beginner's guide on Amazon.
As the just-launched 404 Media reports, Amazon is riddled with mushroom-foraging guidebooks that strongly appear to be AI-generated. And though numerous reports in recent months have detailed various genres of AI-generated material populating Amazon's digital shelves, experts are warning that this particular flavor of AI-produced garbage might warrant extra concern.
"Amazon and other retail outlets have been inundated with AI foraging and identification books," reads a Sunday X post from the New York Mycological Society, linking back to a PSA about the Amazon-hawked books on the subreddit r/mycology. "Please only buy books of known authors and foragers, it can literally mean life or death."
That's not much of a stretch. Some types of mushrooms are extremely poisonous, and as far as hobbies go, fungi foraging can be a dangerous pastime. Generative AI is known to get its facts wrong. What happens when a non-expert looking for a quick cash grab publishes an AI-generated fungi guide, and a piece of bad information — be it outright wrong or even just a little too vague — finds its way onto the pages?
"There are hundreds of poisonous fungi in North America and several that are deadly," Sigrid Jakob, president of the New York Mycological Society, told 404's Samantha Cole. "They can look similar to popular edible species."
"A poor description in a book," Jakob added, "can mislead someone to eat a poisonous mushroom."
Worse, as 404 notes, none of these available books, which feature the formulaic language and almost-definitely fake authors that are becoming hallmarks of such AI-spun ebooks, appear to be marked as AI-generated — an important disclosure that may give a foraging newbie some pause before making a potentially deadly purchase.
Tip of the Iceberg
Though mushroom foraging is a relatively niche hobby, the implications loom large.
After all, if scammers are already publishing foraging guides, there's really no telling what else is already out there, on Amazon and throughout the web. People could wind up getting astoundingly bad advice or info about things like health or finance, among other consequential topics.
In short, buying books online just got way more complicated. Make sure to do your due diligence before you make a purchase — or, if you can, consider shopping at your local bookstore instead.
More on AI-generated books: Seemingly AI-Written Book on Maui Wildfire Becomes Amazon Bestseller, Gets Taken Down
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