A picture of a Christmas tree made up of liquor bottles was posted on social media with the explanation that this had been generated by Artificial Intelligence as representative of the State of Goa.
The experiment was done by a national television channel and there were other Christmas trees of a few other States. Perhaps some of these States may have also not been glad to see how the AI system generated their Christmas trees.
For instance, the Maharashtra tree was made of pav (or pao as we call it in Goa) and surely that is not what Maharashtra is known for or what many across India would know it for.
This leads to the question of what algorithms the AI system used to select the State representation to come up with these trees. Let’s not deny that Goa has been identified by cheap booze and drinking and there are bars across the State. We do admit it.
Bollywood at one point in time almost always portrayed Goan characters in films as sots, much to the displeasure of Goans. This characterization of Goans has remarkably decreased, though at the tourism level, Goa is still known for cheap alcohol, but I would assume that if the AI system or programme was to search through the internet for the hashtag #goa it could come up with more pictures of Fontainhas and the plam-tree fringed Parra road than booze bottles. It would even come up with beaches and sunsets and world heritage monuments but not bottles of alcohol.
A cursory surfing of social media sites with #Goa in the search engines throws up ample pictures of Fontainhas and of the Parra road, with people in different poses. In fact, there are articles that specifically cite these two sites, drawing the attention of prospective tourists to travel to these for some amazing photography.
Even on serious tourism-related websites – that include hotels in Goa – the focus is on beaches and the heritage areas of Goa, giving alcohol a miss. Today, for a tourist coming to Goa, a photo-shoot visit to Fontainhas is a must and social media, too, is full of pictures of this Goan Latin Quarter.
Wonder then why and how this AI-generated picture came up with alcohol bottles. We are all aware that alcohol advertisement is banned in India, so seriously the question: How did this AI system come up with a liquor bottle tree for Goa? Is this AI system living in the Bollywood era of the past?
Almost simultaneously, the Chief Minister of the State said that ‘some westerners have presented a distorted version of Goa to the world’ and that the government and the people ‘are trying to get the cultured facet of Goa before the world’.
The Tourism Minister also said that social media influencers are giving the wrong image of Goa and that action will be taken. This is not the first time that the subject of the distortion of Goa’s image on social media has come up in government circles. It has been addressed quite a few times, but getting it changed will require more than just government efforts.
A reputation once gained is never easy to shake off and the AI-generated Christmas tree is evidence of this. Alcoholism, cheap booze, bars at every corner are cliched examples of a Goa of the past that have got stuck to us. Goa, today, is known for so much else, and perhaps one can dare say notorious too for so much else.
As one comment on social media mentioned, they were surprised it was alcohol bottles and not casinos and drugs that represented Goa in that picture. In a manner of speaking such a picture might have been also possible by AI generation.
Essentially what we are seeing here is the image of Goa that tourism portrays or is believed to portray. No doubt it is distorted and not what Goa is, but if we look at it dispassionately, such an image cannot come about unless the Goans themselves have allowed it to happen.
Aren’t we responsible for the image of Goa? After having allowed tourism to develop unfettered, reining it in now will not change the past. Goa may just have to live with the image that it has created for itself.