A Camera That Prints the Futures We Envision – with a Bit of Help from an AI

One of the first things that made me fall in love with my husband was that in the early days of our nine-year relationship, he would ask me:

What if we could see a picture of the future? Imagine we could see a frame of the moment we are living right now, but many years ago. Just a picture, no explanation. What would your past self think?

Every time I think of where I am right now, from that past perspective, it warms my heart. Through ups and downs, we’ve always had more happy and cheerful “pictures” than sad ones.

So when a client asked us to help them materialize what leaders from all over Brazil dreamt of for the country’s future, this was the feeling we wished for: more than words. The question was: how could we translate visions of a more prosperous, equal, just, sustainable Brazil into pictures?

This became the organizing principle behind Kes Summit. The event took place in a fantastic location in Bahia. It brought warm people, great weather, calm, and peace. For three days, 60 leaders from Adobe, Unilever, AB-Inbev, Thoughtworks, Google, and many other companies, discussed a better Brazil. After the event, their heads were bubbling with ideas. We had inspiring keynotes, engaging exercises, and discussions with experts on five main topics: Humanized Tech, the Future of Work, Global Trends, Social Change, and Conscious Capitalism. 

We used this opportunity to ask attendees to complete the following sentence: 

“In the future I desire for my country, I see…”

We collected everyone’s answers, and that night, with the help of MidJourney’s AI, we turned all prompts into images, transforming their visions into glimpses of the future.

AI image generators are artificial intelligence systems that, from a phrase (or a prompt), combine millions of images into new images. This may seem simple tech, but it is not. In case you haven’t heard anything about this, I have made a video on Instagram explaining what they are and how they work. You can watch it here.

The next morning, we printed the images we generated into Polaroid-style pictures, and during the wrap-up dinner, we displayed them on the main table at the hotel’s restaurant. Participants would receive a random image, read the desired future it portrayed, and the owner of the vision would come and collect it. 

The results were stunning. I wasn’t expecting the images to look so beautifully printed. Some of the prompts required fine-tuning; there is magic in finding the right words to deliver incredible outputs. Sometimes substituting a different word with the same meaning bought out an even better result. Instead of using “Brazil is not destroying the Amazon”, we would switch to a positive approach, such as “Brazil as a country that protects its rain forest.” Or when talking about “a future that is safe for all,” we would prompt “a future where children, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, and people of color are safe.” We were playing the part of the designer – finding the proper visual representation for the intentions the attendees were trying to convey. I never imagined seeing these high-level executives so touched by something as trivial as turning words into pictures. I’ll try to explain what I mean in two stories that struck me. 

First, one of the invited experts – Caio Vassao, a fantastic Brazilian designer – wasn’t present to fill in his response, so we had to come up with something for him. In his keynote about complexity, he showed a slide with two pictures: an Indigenous boy in the Amazon and an Astronaut. He said they both have more in common than we do. They both know their territory well and are explorers of new spaces. By contrast, we occupy spaces with no respect for our surroundings. Caio’s talk was super inspiring, and we wanted the picture to reflect that. So we wrote a prompt for “an Indigenous boy in the Amazon collaborating with an astronaut.” But the AI did not read this as two separate things. Instead, it gave us an Indigenous boy in an astronaut suit. Caio said he had looked for that picture his entire life, and it was finally real. Although he did not ask for it, it was a pleasant surprise.

The second story is from Adriano, from AB-Inbev, who came to us, picture in hand, and asked if we changed his prompt or if we researched his life. We didn’t. We only translated his prompt into English: “A future where all children from Brazil have access to quality education and that racism is just another topic in a museum.” And then he showed us the picture, which had a small white child holding hands with two black children. As he showed it, he said: “I have two adopted kids, and they are black.” Ubiraci Pataxó, a healer from the Pataxó Indigenous Tribe, an invited speaker for the conference who was with us at the moment and added: “and that, in the middle, is you, as a child.” 

He showed us that his vision was not just a dream; it was a desire for the future of his children and a reflection of his life. And just like my husband told me, we were living the picture of the future we envisioned; we were giving these attendees a small glimpse of how mesmerizing and powerful dreams can be when materialized. The significance we attach to  them can make all the difference.

AI-generated images are ushering in a new era of creativity. In less than 12 hours we collected, organized, and transformed 60 dreams of the future into 60 stunning pictures. It took longer and required more people to translate from Portuguese to English than it did to generate images from prompts.

Artificial Intelligence systems are these windows to the collective archive of human knowledge and creation. Yes, there are many implications: ethical, legal, ownership, bias, and more gray areas of all creative-like AI systems. These implications are urgent, and necessary, and should be discussed. But AI can help us reach new heights in design, dataviz, and – why not? – art that we could only imagine previously. There are exciting possibilities in the creative combination of human imagination and a really good AI.

At the end of this experience, we classified all the prompts and re-analyzed them to create a dataviz summarizing the attendees’ ideal futures. We arranged them into three topics: Sustainable Growth, Diverse and Equal Society, and Technology and Education for Dignity. 

Would you like to live in a country where these visions were a  reality? I know I would. I hope they can inspire you to start dreaming – and creating – the future you envision today.

Letícia is a Data Strategist and the co-founder at Odd.Studio. She leads the company to achieve its overall business goals, and the team to kick-start and plan projects. She has more than 10 years of experience in data projects in all sorts of industries, holds a Master in Data & Design and Business. She is a fan of great data storytelling and anything involving cats, traveling and wine. Letícia is Brazilian and based in Barcelona.