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Glasgow’s Wonka Disaster: Don’t fall for AI events

In February, a Willy Wonka event went viral for all the wrong reasons. It prompted hundreds of social media posts, a boatload of memes and even its own documentary. In the wake of this disaster, how can you tell whether an event you’ve seen advertised is going to be a world of pure imagination, or an AI-fuelled disaster? 

‘Willy’s Chocolate Experience’: What happened?

The advertisements by event host, House of Illuminati, on their website and social media presented something which looked like it came directly out of Roald Dahl’s fantasy; lush green landscapes with lollipop trees, a river of rainbow jelly beans and a multicolour forest of edible plants. The reality was a grey industrial space in Glasgow, a sparse scattering of plastic props, and a quarter glass of limeade and a single jelly bean per child for £35 per person.

The event fell so far short of attendees expectations that Glasgow police were called. Despite the best efforts of the team of actors who had been hired for the event, the lead performer for the event described it as a place ‘where dreams went to die’. The owner of House of Illuminati, Billy Coull, reportedly offered over 800 refunds to attendees before the event closed; however, some attendees maintained that they were still waiting to receive this.

Billy Coull’s AI ‘Empire’

After the very public crash and burn of his event on social media, there were a few discoveries about Billy Coull. The entrepreneur had used AI for every aspect of his event, from the artwork used in advertisements to the script for the performers. The writing is, predictably, as poor in quality as the generated images; you can read the 14 pages of nonsensical script here

This was not Billy Coull’s first attempt to monetise AI-generated content. Internet sleuths quickly found Billy Coull’s Amazon storefront, which was selling 16 novels, all of which appear to be written by AI

AI, advertising and what this means for scammers

One of the ways that we used to be able to detect a phishing email, text or fake advert was through the writing. If the language or sentence structure sounded a little off, there was a high chance that you were reading something a scammer had written. However, with the dawn of easily accessible AI technology, scammers can now create text, images and even videos that look real and sound trustworthy

This means that we have to do a little more work to check the legitimacy of an event than before; we can’t simply trust what is in front of us. This is particularly important when we’re booking events online, because Billy Coull isn’t the only person using AI to make their events look incredible. Although social media websites like Facebook have stated that they’ll be introducing warnings when an image has been AI-generated, they have to be able to detect them first - and AI will only continue to get better.

How you can tell an AI event from the real deal

When you’ve found an event that you like the look of online, there are a couple of things that you can do before booking to ensure that you aren’t going to be left disappointed.

  1. Check the company

    Find the company or person behind the event, and throw their business or name into a search engine to see what people are saying about them. Find an independent service, like a TrustPilot or CustomerSure page for the company, and find reviews for their past events.

  2. Get in touch

    A legitimate business or event provider should have a clear way for customers to contact them. Many businesses now offer AI-powered chatbots to help support their customer service team, but if you need to, there should be a way to write to, or speak to, a real person. Find their contact details, and then…

  3. Ask about their policies

    A trustworthy business should have clear information about the event, beyond marketing material, as well as a returns policy and terms and conditions of the sale. If you’re in doubt about the legitimacy of this information, or there’s something that doesn’t add up, don’t book. 

If you need to get a refund on an event ticket, this article from Citizens Advice lists your options

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