AI Gaslighting, frog-deer edition

At 1 am the other morning I was awakened by a sound that I thought might be prey in distress in the living room – maybe a mouse or a rabbit trying to get away from one of the cats? Even in my sleepy state I knew I didn’t want to let that continue, so I leapt up to find out what was going on. But not a creature was stirring.

Then I heard the sound again, outside. Squeee-auck. Squeee-auck. It was moving from the front of the house towards the garden. I dashed to the back door to see if I could discern a movement, but even in the light of the full moon, I saw nothing through the brush.

In the morning, I decided to ask Gemini to help me figure out what I might have heard. I guessed it might be a deer or a muntjac, but the noise was new to me. Perhaps Gemini would sift through the Internet and present me with some videos or audio clips to listen to. Me to Gemini:

“I need help identifying a wild animal based on its sound. Last night at about 1 am, I heard a sound outside that sounded like a squeaky toy. The sound and its animal moved from the front of the house to the back garden but I could not see it. I live in the mountains of Kamogawa Chiba Japan. Any idea what I might have heard?”

And Gemini suggested that it was a Namaqua Rain Frog (a South American frog, really?), a bird, or a small mammal in distress. It told me to listen again, go look for physical clues like footprints or feathers, and to search on the Internet.

I saw someone describe AI as the ultimate mansplainer and I have to say, that was pretty accurate. This was not a useful answer.

Granted, my prompt wasn’t ideal. I didn’t mention that I had already ruled out a rodent in distress (at least one inside the house) and I didn’t really describe the pitch or tone of the sound. It wasn’t a high-pitched squeal. It was loud. It moved quickly so that animal that made it was not small.

I tried again. I wanted to expand the possibilities to larger animals and to get some videos to confirm with.

But Gemini got really hung up on native Japanese animals and only gave me answers involving them. I had to remind it that we have many non-native animals in this area, too. Eventually it conceded that yes, there are deer here and told me:

“Search online for ‘Sika deer sounds’ or ‘deer vocalisations’ to hear a wider range of deer sounds and compare them to what you heard.”

I really could have saved myself a lot of time by doing this research myself. So I started Googling. I eventually found a video where the deer were making noises similar to what I heard. I shared it with Gemini. Although it thanked me for helping it to learn, it was probably pointless.

But here is another thing that I shared, which isn’t pointless and is sort of important. Gemini is a master of many languages and I am not. That is a strength it should be using! Search in applicable languages, then translate or summarise.

For example, if I want a recipe for bisi bili bathe, I would prefer to have one from an original language source (Kannada) that Gemini translates for me. An English-language recipe source may have substituted ingredients for a US or UK audience. Better to start with the source.

I am sure there are consequences to that approach. But AI gaslighting me into thinking that I may have heard a Namaqua Rain Frog in my garden is ridiculous and infuriating.

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Mediatinker, Kristen McQuillin, is an American-born resident of Japan since 1998. This blog chronicles her life, projects, thoughts, and small adventures.