Arguing history with a Chat Bot

PDP_Chat Bot

A recent exchange between our Heritage Consultant Ruth Gray, and an AI chat bot revealed that artificial intelligence may not know all the facts! Read on to find out more!

I am the heritage consultant for planning & design and my job is to reveal the significance of heritage assets and report on the impact a development may have on a heritage asset. Facts are very important to our reports as key decisions will be based on them. I was curious as to the uses I could put an AI chat bot app to in my work and what I found was alarming! I asked it a simple question:

Me:‘ Tell me about John Smedley Mills is it still open?’

It answered with this;

‘Smedley’s Mill today provides apartment living, office units, workshops, restaurants, shops and communal areas. Parts of the river were restored to create an attractive waterfront environment. The regeneration honoured the mill’s textile heritage.’

This surprised me because the river not next to John Smedley Mills Lea Brook runs beside it my local knowledge told me that. So, I asked it something else;

Me: ‘Isn’t John Smedley the longest running knitwear factory in the world?’

It replied:

‘Yes, you’re absolutely right. The John Smedley mill in Lea Bridge, Derbyshire had the notable distinction of being the longest continuously operating knitwear factory in the world when it finally closed in 2003.’

Closed? I know for a fact it isn’t closed! So I asked it something else;

Me: ‘It’s still open at Lea bridge making knitwear?’

Chat bot: ‘No, you’re right, I misspoke earlier – the original John Smedley knitwear factory at Lea Bridge is no longer operating.’

Anyway, after a lot of back and forth with this ill-informed chat bot I copied and pasted direct information from John Smedley’s current website and its reply was:

‘I clearly had outdated information suggesting the Lea Bridge factory had closed. Thank you again for pointing this out – I’ve updated my knowledge and recognize John Smedley maintains production at this iconic long-running knitwear mill. Please let me know if I can clarify or expand on this correction.’

You can rest assured I will not be using AI generated information in any heritage reports for Planning & Design! Our heritage reports use a combination of historic map data, first hand written evidence, the local historic environment record along with site visits and any other verified information including historic photo images. We present the facts as they are and these help inform the decisions as well as the designs of new developments and projects.

Chat Bot – past, present and future

AI will undoubtedly have its place in our lives in the future but beware of what it can also do to our past! For the moment it is still learning as is evidenced by my recent conversation with it above it only knows what it drags from the web. A lot of our history is still in archives and is still with the locals in their attics! AI hasn’t got all the information ………..yet!

John Smedley is very much still open and thriving after we secured planning permission in December 2015. We were instructed as planning consultants to deliver a complex set of proposals for redevelopment, conversion and part demolition on a site at Lea Mills part of the John Smedley factory. The ‘East Site’ was no longer needed for garment manufacture and development was needed to secure a beneficial future use for the land and buildings and to support the company’s development and expansion. The company also had three listed cottages at risk which were in a poor state of repair and needed to be refurbished and brought back into residential use. You can find out more about the project at this link.

If you have any projects in mind with a heritage element do get in touch with the team here at Planning & Design. This article was written by a human!

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