Outdoor gear advice? Walking route? Can you tell if it’s been generated by AI?

Welcome to Dartmoor, where the wild and mystical landscape of Devon unfolds before you. I’m Fi Darby, and I’ve been exploring these moorlands for years. With my guidance, you’ll embark on a magical journey through Dartmoor, filled with ancient legends, rugged terrain, and captivating beauty. Grab your walking boots and let’s uncover the secrets of this enchanting place. 

Well? Was the above written by me or by a computer?

It’s difficult to tell isn’t it. The piece tells the truth, I have been exploring Dartmoor for years and I do think it has rugged terrain and captivating beauty.

But I didn’t write the paragraph above.

It was an excerpt from an article written by ChatGPT, at my instruction to ‘write about Dartmoor in the style of Fi Darby’.

It’s quite an impressive piece.

And includes some of my favourite outdoor advice concerning walking boots and waterproofs. It even suggests (as I often do) the correct Ordnance Survey map for Dartmoor, and advises the reader to ‘practice good navigation skills’.

So ChatGPT clearly has a picture of the type of advice I usually give.

You would too, if you had the ability to speed read all I have ever written on the topic of Dartmoor (there’s nearly 15 years worth). The bot also goes on to offer some comments on the Dartmoor landscape, even its flora and fauna but these are more in the form of general motifs rather than actual locations.

With the exception of the already over-exposed Wistman’s Wood.

Is there a style to AI generated writing?

To my mind, this ‘in the style of Fi Darby‘ piece isn’t written in my style at all but it is written in a style I recognise.

The style of a (not so good) general copywriter.

For a long time now, I’ve been able to differentiate between expert and non-expert online writing. I’ve also been able to pick out writing that has been written with the sole purpose of selling a product, idea or service.

That’s because as a copywriter I have been used to writing as a non-expert on many topics.

How to spot AI generated writing

You can spot low quality online writing in a few ways, and the same markers can help you work out whether or not you’re reading a piece of AI writing.

Remembering that the majority of online writing is generated to make money, here are a few things you might want to look out for if you prefer your outdoor advice to come from a human.

  • The overuse of keywords. If a set of words sounds strange in a paragraph or keeps appearing in different forms, this is because the writer (AI or human) is using keywords to attract search engine attention. For example, ChatGPT has included ‘Dartmoor letterboxing’, ‘Dartmoor National Park Authority’ and ‘Clapper Bridges’ because they are mentioned so often in other Dartmoor articles.


  • The avoidance of detail. Detail brings a piece of writing to life but it also offers the possibility of mistakes. Mentioning Hound Tor is easy because so many others write about it but talk about a type of lichen that can be found on the south-facing rocks or the strange shape the stones appear to make from a certain angle, and you’ll have a more interested audience. AI currently finds this as hard as writers who have never visited an area.


  • The absence of personal experience. Have no doubt about it, sooner rather than later AI will be able to fake personal outdoor experiences (see my AI tent review) but for now, looking for evidence of personal experience is perhaps your best clue to deciding whether or not an actual person has written the text you’re reading. For example, if I talked about clapper bridges in a Dartmoor article, I might mention the time I squatted like a troll underneath one, or the great photo I got of a sheep posing on one. Experience-based writing like this builds connections between the writer and the reader. The type of connections that AI is also looking to achieve.

Can AI write sensible walking routes?

If your usual walking route planning app isn’t already using AI in some capacity, it will be soon. But using artificial intelligence to enhance information (for example provide fly-through videos) is one thing.

Using AI to create a whole walking route might not work (yet!)

But it seemed only fair to give ChatGPT a go so I asked it to find a walking route between two of my local towns, Teignmouth and Newton Abbot. If you’re interested or know the area, here’s a map I created from ChatGPT’s instructions (I used the Snap-to-Path tool in the OS Maps app).

There were several issues with ChatGPT’s route:

  1. It crossed the river twice and didn’t mention the ferry.
  2. It suggested a visit to the Botanical Gardens, which are up a steep hill in the wrong direction.
  3. It suggested the South West Coast Path at Bishopsteignton, which isn’t on the coast path.
  4. It suggested a footpath between Bishopsteignton and Newton Abbot that doesn’t exist.

All of which would be a bit of a shame if you were walking because there is a lovely foreshore route up one side of the river that ChatGPT hasn’t noticed at all. Yet!

My Teignmouth to Newton Abbot walking route.

I can only conclude that bots haven’t yet learned how to sensibly read maps.

Can AI learn to write like a human?

Would you trust a tent review written by artificial intelligence?

The difference between the algorithms we have become used to in our online lives, and artificial intelligence, is that AI uses machine learning to get better and better at tasks.

AI can learn what people like to read and what they don’t.

This means that although some AI writing is currently discernable from human writing, it is becoming more difficult for us to tell the difference.

Soon it might be impossible.

Because AI can learn really quickly. Much faster than we can. In my role as a writer I get invitations every day to use AI tools to generate copy. I don’t use them, and I don’t intend to but I do know that many other writers do.

Even writers who specialise in the outdoors.

Sooner or later I will miss out on work because of AI. I suspect I already have. But I am adaptable and a bit stubborn.

Here’s why I don’t want to join the artificial writing race.

  • It’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between human and AI generated writing. I think this matters because the same applies to video and images. When you put together radical written ideas and deep fake images, problems with veracity are bound to follow. By using AI tools, we help them to learn. I’m not sure I want to do that. Incidentally, this AI detection tool (there are loads out there) gave the ChatGPT writing above an 81% likelihood of being human.


  • AI is going to make the internet more boring. To get good search engine results, there is already a tendency to write more and more copy on ‘popular’ subjects. For example, I’m more likely to get asked by a client to write about a walking route on the South West Coast Path than my recent pilgrimage in Herefordshire because more people are going to search for information about an experience they have heard of than one they haven’t. AI generated writing is going to enhance this effect.


  • AI generated writing has enormous potential to mislead. We’re already seeing the disturbing impacts of fake online information but imagine that impact multiplied exponentially by a tool that can keep generating writing on the same topic for as long as is necessary to persuade everyone it is right. This obviously has some pretty big implications but it has smaller ones too. Read what the UN has to say on the topic of disinformation.


  • AI presents massive copyright issues. All that perceived artificially intelligent cleverness doesn’t come from a vacuum. AI bots mine information at a super-fast rate from online texts that have been (for the most part) written by hard-working human writers. Then they learn from that information and pump out a version of it, without indicating any sources. Read what the Writers Guild has to say about the use of AI tools in writing.

Should I be concerned about the use of AI in outdoor writing?

Whether you trust AI generated information or not is up to you. There’s plenty of human-generated, ill-informed nonsense already out there. I plan to spend my time reading from trusted sources who have developed their opinions and thoughts through years of experience but you might enjoy something new.

There are times however when intelligence (especially the artificial kind) is no substitute for experience. 

Who would you trust to guide you up (and more importantly back down) a mountain? A bot that’s re-churning any old information it found online? Or a local expert who’s done the job many times before?

I know exactly where I stand on that one.



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