– Justin Dawes
Since ChatGPT launched last November, several other well-funded companies have launched their own versions in an attempt to compete.
The latest was Meta, which late last month released the beta version of a generative AI chatbot called Meta AI on the mobile versions of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger. The chatbot is powered by Meta’s own large language model, similar to how OpenAI’s model powers ChatGPT and Google’s model powers Bard.
As with ChatGPT and others, Meta AI can answer questions about planning trips, booking flights, and more.
I tested the chatbot on WhatsApp to see how it performed when planning a trip, and a few issues immediately jumped out.
First, there were quite a few mistakes in his answers. For example, he “forgot” what was being discussed and had to receive the same prompt twice within one conversation. He also provided links to articles with his answers, but some of them were years out of date.
Creating a route was another problem. There’s one thing ChatGPT has done pretty well from the start: an easily digestible list that often includes context generated instantly with a single prompt. Google launched Bard soon after and had a similar structure. But with Meta AI, it took several steps for the chatbot to produce a barebones route and it was presented in a clunky format.
ChatGPT and Bard later improved their travel planning capabilities: ChatGPT Plus has many third-party plug-ins, and Bard recently released the ability to connect to Google travel products. Meta AI doesn’t have that – at least not yet.
Below is an overview of how Meta AI performed in three travel-related areas: itinerary creation, activities and event recommendations with tickets and flight and hotel reservations.
We are getting ready to start
To access the chatbot, go to the WhatsApp chats tab. Click the symbol in the upper right corner to start a new chat. Tap the fourth option, “New AI Chat” and then tap the “Meta AI” option to start a conversation.
The first message comes automatically: “My name is Meta AI. Think of me as an assistant who is here to help you learn, plan and connect. How can I help you today?’
Double-tapping (or tapping and holding) on the answer, as if to copy the text, gives options to report it as a good or bad answer.
Create a route
There are many early examples of creating routes with ChatGPT. While ChatGPT still has many issues of its own, overall it’s a good start for planning a trip because of the detailed suggestions it provides without much effort.
Below is a refresh of the typical itinerary format in the free version of ChatGPT using this prompt: “Can you make me an itinerary for a weekend in New York that focuses on fusion restaurants and unique museums?”
The experience with Meta AI was not so easy.
First, Meta AI received exactly the same prompt as ChatGPT.
Instead of providing an itinerary right away, the Meta AI responded with a few follow-up questions, including asking for details on the types of fusion restaurants and museum exhibits I wanted to see.
This would be useful if done right, but in this case it derails the conversation.
My answer to these two questions: “Asian and Latin fusion; Contemporary art.”
The chatbot then gave its recommendation for “Asian and Latin fusion contemporary art” — not Asian-Latin fusion restaurants and contemporary art museums. No route yet.
I fixed the chatbot and then it gave a list of restaurants (see next section). No route yet.
When he asked for directions again, he wanted to start over until she reminded him of the conversation above. Then he finally gave an itinerary that was written in two sentences and skipped breakfast plans.
Things to do
Meta AI appears to pull answers directly from articles it finds through Bing, but the content is sometimes out of date.
When I asked again about Asian-Latin fusion restaurants, the answer was about five restaurants in the entire city that the chatbot claimed were Asian-Latin fusion, although not all of them were. There were no restaurant links provided, so it wasn’t clear exactly which ones it was referring to, but one of the restaurants listed appears to be permanently closed. The first three spots on this list appear to be taken directly from a HipLatina article written in 2017 that the chatbot cites.
In response to a question about new public art exhibitions in New York, the chatbot provided four suggestions and pointed to four Untapped New York listicle articles written in 2021 and 2022. All four specific suggestions were closed more than a year ago.
A question about activities in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, resulted in a very generic response. When asked for details, he still didn’t provide much more information, but did share links to Viator and GetYourGuide for booking ticketed activities. The free version of ChatGPT, by comparison, does not provide links, but does share site names that list events.
Flights and hotels
When prompted for flight and hotel availability, Meta AI provides specific information but does not include relevant links. In comparison, the free version of ChatGPT does not provide specific booking information.
Meta AI provides links to search and booking sites such as Google Flights and Expedia. But tapping on those links leads to landing pages with no or incorrect input, forcing the user to start from scratch.
At this point, why not just start with Google Flights?
Photo Credit: Meta recently launched its own AI chatbot.