Mushroom hunting is a dangerous sport. The differences between deadly and delicious mushrooms can be subtle and hard to spot, and it's not a verdict that should be left up to guessing. Earlier this year, 14 people in Northern California became sick after eating foraged "death cap" mushrooms, and three had to have liver transplants.
An app called Mushroom claims to be able to identify whether a mushroom is safe or toxic through artificial intelligence. However, as The Verge reports, experts say an app isn't a foolproof way to identify mushrooms, and users could be putting themselves in danger by relying on it.
Some mushrooms need to be touched and smelled to identify whether they are a truly safe-to-eat species or if they're a similar-looking toxic variety, a mushroom expert told The Verge. And artificial intelligence working solely off images won't be able to tell the difference. As one environmental scientist put it on Twitter, the app's shortcomings could have deadly results.
In response to the uproar, the app seems to have been edited to focus just on the lucrative practice of truffle-hunting. The new app's description is a confusing liability warning: "The app is intended for the general interest truffle hunter as a reference guide who is [sic] looking to hunt and sell truffles locally. The app is not intended for use when foraging for wild food and we strongly recommend you do not handle or consume wild mushrooms." In other words, use it as a reference guide if you want to sell truffles, but don’t eat them. While truffles aren't toxic, there are species of "false truffles" that are poisonous, so probably don't rely solely on artificial intelligence for those, either.
There are several other mushroom-hunting guide apps, but they mostly regurgitate information that you would find in books on the subject. Getting an illustrated guidebook is most experts' recommended method for safely foraging for mushrooms. So please, if you want to become a mushroom hunter, ditch the apps, hire a guide, take a class, or, at the very least, buy a good book. Don't simply trust the 'bots.
[h/t The Verge]