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Red rocks and bearded man-beasts — what Utah looks like, according to AI

ChatGPT managed to create images of a ward party I’m pretty sure I’ve attended

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Zoë Petersen, Deseret News

Inspired by the recent Texas Monthly article “What a Texan Looks Like, According to AI,” and an Instagram reel that highlights the ability of AI to generate a version of a Utah Influencer, I set out to discover how accurately artificial intelligence could render a typical life-in-Utah scene.

My AI adventure started on Midjourney, where I spent $8 and an entire afternoon trying to understand how to use it.

Midjourney, it turns out, is a complicated system that requires intense training to master, so my $8 and four hours produced images I would describe as fever-dreamesque.

When I entered the prompt “Show me a Utahn,” for example, I was given some sort of half-man, half-beast creature surrounded by lanterns descending from the sky. Other images were equally bizarre.

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Images of Utah generated by Midjourney

Midjourney seems to have a real thing for southern Utah’s red-rock landscape. I mean, we all do, but most of us don’t live out our life sitting in an armchair beneath Delicate Arch whittling a flute.

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Image of a typical Utahn generated by Midjourney

I tried to get closer to my own reality by including “mom” in the prompt, and while the result did seem closer to what one might see on a Utah influencer’s Instagram feed, it still wasn’t really within my lived realm, mostly because I’ve never made it past the trailhead while trying to hike with an infant.

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Image of a Utah mom generated by Midjourney

I tried one last prompt, specifying that I was looking for an image of a Utahn without red rocks, and Midjourney served me this:

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Image of a typical Utahn without red rock generated by Midjourney

And I just don’t really encounter many guys like this. Though I do hope this man, whoever and wherever he is, is doing OK.

At this point I was starting to get nervous about what I might see next so I switched to ChatGPT, where you can generate images in the paid version of the app, which I forked over 20 whole dollars to get.

But I knew it was money well spent after ChatGPT managed to create the following image with only the prompt “create a photorealistic image of a Utah potluck.”

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Image of a Utah potluck generated in ChatGPT

I have been to a party that looks just like this. I have, in fact, been to many parties that look just like this. I’m at one of these parties at least once a summer.

It could be a ward party, it could be a family reunion, or it could be a Fourth of July block party. They all look just like that, down to the Instant Pots placed directly on the buffet tables.

The only gathering I’ve attended more often than an outdoor potluck on a summer evening is a potluck inside a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse during months more likely to have inclement weather.

So I asked ChatGPT to show me a potluck indoors and here’s what I got:

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Image of an indoor Utah potluck generated in ChatGPT

It is of the utmost importance, I believe, that my prompt made no mention of the nature of the building in which the potluck would be taking place. ChatGPT added the iconic shiny gym floor and scratchy carpet walls of Latter-day Saint chapels all on its own.

I asked to see the meal one might expect to eat at this potluck, and other than the pile of carrot sticks, the meal looked like every lunch I’ve ever eaten after a funeral, prepared and served by the Relief Society from the ward of the deceased.

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A plate of Utah food generated in ChatGPT

I asked for a closeup of the food, which looked both revolting and delicious. In other words, par for the course at any of these functions.

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A closeup of Utah food generated in ChatGPT

The green blob both triggers my trypophobia — my aversion to lumps and bumps — and whets my appetite because I bet those lumps are toasted marshmallows.

As near perfect as the rendering of the potluck was, there was something missing, I felt. It took me a minute until I realized what it was — hordes of children running wild in the hallways. So I asked for some.

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An image generated in ChatGPT of children in the chapel halls during a Utah potluck

It was a good first try, but a little more square-dancey than what I’ve seen of the kids at the potlucks I’ve attended. So I clarified.

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And then I got this:

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An image generated in ChatGPT of children running wild during a potluck

What I appreciate most about the above image is the panicked adults at the back of the hallway fleeing the scene in terror.

But it still wasn’t quite true to what I’ve seen from the primary crowd at the potlucks, I think because Latter-day Saint meetinghouses do not display crosses. And most potlucks in Utah are held in Latter-day Saint meetinghouses. So I asked to have the cross removed, which somehow made the cross bigger:

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Image generated in ChatGPT of children running wild

And the children scarier:

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I could tell I was one prompt away from creating a scene from “The Exorcist,” so I rethought my strategy and placed the children back in the cultural hall with the dining adults.

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An image generated in ChatGPT of children running wild during a potluck

It was almost there, but the green floor screamed intramural soccer match instead of ward activity.

So I got very specific about the floor type.

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An image generated in ChatGPT of children running wild during a potluck

And there it was. The perfect rendering of an indoor Utah potluck.

Sure, the American flag has quadruple the number of stars it should, and yes, the basketball hoop is lower than it might be in reality, but everything else might as well be a photo of the latest ward function I attended, where the adults sat calmly eating their frog-eye salad and ham, and the children ran, squealing, while their shoes squeaked on the gym floor varnish.

I can practically smell the stiff paper towels taken from the bathroom because the person who signed up to bring the napkins forgot, and the funeral potatoes steaming from the disposable foil baking trays distributed to ward volunteer cooks.

It’s a sight that evokes nostalgia and warm memories of neighborhood parties gone by. And it’s a sight I’m happy to see again, even if I’m unnerved by AI’s ability to create it.