AI Party: What Time Looks Like

If you’ve never used Midjourney to generate graphics, it’s wild. Here’s a description for the uninitiated.

You have a prompt where you tell the program, “Imagine such-and-such,” describing the image you want to generate. It chews on that for a bit, then spits out a set of four pictures that (it predicts) will match your description. At that point you can download the graphics, ask for variations, or try again. You get the feeling you’re planting a hypnotic suggestion in the mind of a sleeping giant, one with the fantastic imagination of a child.

At my place we have AI parties. This means that we pour beer and wine, order a delivery of pizza and wings, and spend an evening gathered around a computer, telling the slumbering giant what to dream up next. It’s great fun—and yes, if you’re shooting for something specific, you’re gonna be at it for a while. Quite often it’s like The Rolling Stones say: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need. It took three AI parties to come up with the graphics I used to design this website, and two days to generate the set you see in the “character” section of the page for The Sower.

Given the topic matter of this novel (Nazi Germany), I soon discovered that Midjourney’s creators have made their dreaming giant highly reluctant to reproduce symbols from the real world. That’s a bummer when I’m trying to depict a character wearing a Passionist habit. (I felt lucky when I asked for a priest and it gamely returned a figure with the Roman collar.) It’s probably for the best, given the sensitivity of the history I’m dealing with—especially when I know there are Germans visiting this site, and the Hakenkreuz is highly restricted, with a few allowances for art and history. Rightfully so. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t getting any officers wearing swastika armbands, SS badges, and death-head caps out of this thing. In fact, there’s a filter that will swiftly reject your request if it thinks you’re pushing for hateful or offensive imagery. To the creators I say, “Good call.”

Midjourney really shines when you have a general concept in mind, and just about any inventive imagery will do. When I was looking for graphics to decorate the blog section, time was at the forefront of my mind. I told Midjourney, “Imagine what time looks like.” Here’s a sample of what the giant dreamed up (with some fun commentary from me.) FYI: You can click on these and get larger versions.

Yeah. That is one crazy clock. I like the smashed Roman buildings in the middle, and the frowning ape with the squiggly halo at the bottom. Maybe that detail is a meditation on Darwin? And I guess the winged creatures attest that time flies while you’re having fun (which is true). Photo dreamed by Midjourney.

 

I see this as a combination of Times Square and Big Ben in Hell—à la 1920s. Maybe this one is a reflection of 1929, the onset of the Great Depression. The cars seem unoccupied and incapable of movement, given all the people milling about, asking each other, “What the—?” Photo dreamed by Midjourney.

 

I dub this one, “Dude defeated by Time.” He must be under a deadline. Yup. We can all relate. Though, I’ve never seen a clock face with three hands, have you? Photo dreamed by Midjourney.

 

You really do have to admire the detail in this one. It’s amazingly intricate. The clock is, well… imaginative. Photo dreamed by Midjourney.

 

Really love this one. The sunrise in the clock, and the glow of the dawn on the waves is just beautiful. But I don’t remember “A” being on a real clock anywhere on this planet. Photo dreamed by Midjourney.

 

I call this one, “The Land Where You Go When You Need More Time.” We could all use a trip here. Photo dreamed by Midjourney.

I nearly used this one for the blog section… and then I noticed the numbers on the clock face. I knew I’d have a slew of Germans comment, “You know the numbers are wrong on the big clock, yes?” Ja, meine deutschen Freunde. I know you are here, and you will point out when things are not quite right!

Take-home message from this little gallery. This is an excellent visual demonstration showing how powerful generative AI can be—and at the same time, its accuracy can be just a little bit off. It allows you to envision new possibilities. That’s what makes it such an amazing tool. But like a child, it’s learning. It just needs a bit of oversight from time to time.