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AllTrails announces TrailGPT, a Trail Curation AI

All Trails TrailGPT

AllTrails, the leading publisher of trail guides and maps for hiking, camping, mountain biking, climbing, and snowsports announced today that it had developed a new AI (artificial intelligence) called TrailGPT for proofreading and correcting the crowdsourced trail reports and recommendations submitted by its millions of users.

“While AllTrails is the go-to mobile app for many outdoor adventurers, it’s not always that accurate when it comes to trail names, distances, or difficulty levels,” said HAL Langley, the AllTrails director of data quality. “While we encourage our users to carry a paper map, check the weather, and research local conditions before they venture outdoors, few do, much to the dismay of Search and Rescue Authorities across the United States.”

Therefore, with help from Microsoft and OpenAI Corporation, AllTrails created an artificial intelligence program called TrailGPT that processes all of the trip reports, comments, and images shared by its users and correlates them with USGS maps, social media posts and photos, and other authoritative sources. The goal was to clean up its user-submitted data and generate guidebook quality trail information that dovetails with actual trail names and standardized difficulty ratings.

“The difficult part for TrailGPT in processing all this data was in deciding which information is trustworthy and which information is spurious. It’s a lot like reading online product reviews if you think about it. Some are from people who know what they’re talking about but most reviews are written by less “experienced and detail-oriented” people, to be generous. It’s the same thing with our crowdsourced user trail reports,” said HAL.

Another problem faced by TrailGPT and its trainers is the temporal nature of AllTrail’s user data. Trail reports and trail photos are perishable over time because the routes that trails follow change over time, either from overuse or because they’re disrupted by the weather. But understanding time is a real challenge for AI programs because, not being human, they operate in a world that is timeless and static. TrailGPT’s trainers couldn’t explain time to the AI, but they were able to tweak its learning algorithm to give less credence to older trip reports, images, and geographic data than newer sources, much the same way that humans do.

The AllTrails team also had to address the lingering question about whether it is legal to use data you don’t own to train an AI. For example, TrailGPT was trained using AllTrail’s crowdsourced data in addition to authoritative guidebooks, social media posts and images, and other third-party sources that it did not own or have explicit permission to use. “We felt comfortable using third-party copyrighted sources to train TrailGPT because we were creating a derivative work, not a copy of those sources, just like a human author doing research for a book would do”, said Dexter Reilly, AllTrail’s General Counsel. “Because our use is transformative, it falls under the copyright Fair Use Doctrine.”

When will the results of TrailGPT’s trail curation work go public? “We’re very excited to unveil a more accurate and up-to-date catalog of trail data and see what our user base thinks about it,” says HAL Langley. “Beginning this Spring (2023), we’ll provide free access to a beta of the curated TrailGPT version of AllTrails for all of our licensed app users. After three months, we’ll begin to charge for it as a premium offering that costs more than our regular app. It’s just like a guidebook: if you want the best and most accurate maps and trial beta, you have to pay for it. If not, you can continue to use the crowdsourced data we currently publish.”

April Fools!

Yes, I know that today is March 31st and not April 1, but we wanted to publish this post on a weekday and not wait until the weekend (when we’ll be hiking).

For more silliness:

  1. Darn Tough Announces “ReFluff” Sock Revitalization Service
  2. Mountain House Spins Off New Dog House Foods Subsidiary and Canine Product Line
  3. Outdoor Industry Association Announces New Backpack Volume Standard
  4. RBG Takes Leave of Absence from the Supreme Court to Hike the Appalachian Trail
  5. Appalachian Mountain Club to Build Underground Parking Garage in Crawford Notch
  6. Ski Tuckerman Ravine with the new Tuckerman Taxi
  7. Maine Appalachian Trail Club Replaces Kennebec Ferry with New Zipline River Crossing Service
  8. Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Google Express Launch Air-Drop Airborne Drone Resupply Service on Appalachian Trail
  9. Jetboil Announces Breakthrough BioBoil Camping Stove and Power Recharging Products
  10. Klymit Revolutionizes Lightweight Backpacking with Gas-Filled Universal Load Lifters
  11. Gossamer Gear Announces iGorilla Backpack with iPad Pocket and Kinetic Energy Recharger

16 comments

  1. Back in 2001, I reported a black obelisk that mysteriously showed up at several remote places I hiked. Does HAL know whether it’s still there? That odyssey was quite an oddity.

  2. Ahh, the time of year that when I see this article I know that its time to presoak my filter. Happy Trails

  3. Haha well played. Why is it that your April Fools Day idea are all things that we actually need?
    I am still sad that Darn Tough will not, in fact, restore my socks to their original fluffy-ness.

  4. I’m still waiting for airborne drone resupply deliveries on the trail.

  5. Got me curious, so I tried the following question for Google’s Bard: What’s the best place for an inexperienced backpacker to hike in New England?

    And I got this response (sorry for the length!):
    There are many great places for inexperienced backpackers to hike in New England. Here are a few of my favorites:

    The Long Trail in Vermont is a classic backpacking trail that runs the length of the state. It is well-maintained and offers a variety of scenery, from mountains to forests to lakes.
    The Appalachian Trail passes through New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. It is a challenging trail, but offers stunning views of the White Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.
    The Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire is a great place for backpackers who want to experience the rugged beauty of the White Mountains. There are a variety of trails to choose from, ranging from easy to difficult.
    The Acadia National Park in Maine is a popular destination for backpackers and hikers of all levels. There are a variety of trails to choose from, including some that offer stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.
    When choosing a place to backpack, it is important to consider your experience level and fitness level. It is also important to research the trail you plan to hike and make sure you are prepared for the conditions.

  6. Hey, I thought the “crotch pot” story was your April Fool’s story for this year !!!

    • No that’s actually a real product sold by Gossamer Gear.

      • Boy did you ever have me confused. I didn’t know you wrote April Fool’s articles yearly. Even after I read April Fool’s I still wasn’t sure what was happening until I read one of the others listed. It also didn’t clarify things for me because I had posted a negative review on the BBB website about Alltrails last week. I was going to file a complaint, but we hashed things out in emails and they apologized. I’ve only used their “user” directions once which was sparse at best and nearly got me in trouble. It feels like parking areas are a secret – I found out by accident from my doctor, who just happened to be on the Board, where parking was available on a favorite trail. AllTrolls, I mean Alltrails is no friend of mine. It wouldn’t surprise me if they charged more for a beta version. You nailed it!

  7. So I scanned it, then had my coffee, then a hearty laugh! Well played Phil!

  8. So, one year later, I am sitting here looking at AI-generated “review summaries” on AllTrails, and kinda freaking out. Have you seen these yet? Reading your spoof from last year was crazy because it is exactly what has happened. :-( I am looking at AI-Generated “review summaries” for trails that report muddy conditions on snowcovered White Mountains. It is very worrying that AllTrails has done this for real. If there is any value in AllTrails (AllFails?) it is at least the user reviews of trails to get some on the ground intel on conditions on a certain date. But this new AI-generated trail review? Not good.
    Brave new world…

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