Behind the scenes with Salesforce Futures and how together with their collaborators, they cast the vision for their latest film, Salesforce 2030: A Glimpse of an AI Future.
It’s easy to imagine a dystopian future — as countless blockbuster movies have — but depicting an optimistic and plausible tomorrow requires a more nuanced and concerted effort.
To bring that kind of future to life, it’s essential to pull together diverse opinions and explore options — something that Peter Schwartz, Salesforce’s Chief Futures Officer and one the many folks I was lucky enough to collaborate with making the film “Salesforce 2030,” knows first-hand.
In 1999, prior to his time at Salesforce, Peter helped convene a group of scientists, technologists, futurists, and creatives for a two-day “Idea Summit” to imagine what the world might look like in 2050. While Philip K. Dick’s original short story “The Minority Report” provided a narrative and conceptual foundation for what the future might hold, Steven Spielberg and his team knew it lacked the world-building elements that would bring the story to life. Spielberg knew he wanted to build a realistic representation of the future that avoided dystopian clichés, but they didn’t know what that might look like.
That’s where Schwartz and this band of visionaries came in.
Reflecting on that experience, Schwartz said, “Some of the ideas the team came up with, including hyper-personalized advertising and gestural control of interfaces, look pretty prescient today. A decade after the movie came out, we wanted people who saw new technology to say, ‘that’s just like “The Minority Report.”‘ I think we succeeded in that.”
A decade after the movie came out, we wanted people who saw new technology to say, ‘that’s just like “Minority Report.’ I think we succeeded in that.”Peter Schwartz, Chief Futures Officer at salesforce
Imagining the future by looking closely at the present
Inspired by the Idea Summit, in September 2023, the Salesforce Futures team interviewed a group of remarkable thinkers, including sci-fi writers and ethicists, and partnered with a filmmaking team to create “Salesforce 2030” – a vision of the future that anyone could comprehend.
With so much uncertainty related to technology, the team wanted to show an optimistic, but believable vision of how AI might make life easier tomorrow and unlock the full potential of human abilities in the workplace. While the accuracy of our predictions remains to be seen, making it reinforced a core belief of Salesforce Futures: the very act of imagining and documenting a vision of the future is worthwhile.
One idea shared by all who worked on the film was the need to avoid depiction of a future that felt abstract and unmoored from elements of reality we believe to be persistent, such as ambition, collaboration, and the importance of human decision-making. In this spirit, we sought to ground our narrative in a very specific, Salesforce-relevant context.
There are a lot of stories we could have told about the future, but we chose to tell one about Jordan, the epitome of a Trailblazer. Act One roots us in the present, where we witness Jordan and her team grappling with the complexities of expanding their business — sifting through a deluge of notifications, communication channels, and unwieldy information feeds, all of which hinder the team’s energy and productivity. By highlighting these contemporary challenges, we lay the groundwork for a leap into a world where AI offers solutions in the times ahead in service of trailblazers like Jordan.
“The hero of the story is technology, but we wanted to be really conscious of how that technology serves the ambitions of Jordan and helps her spend more time on the relationships that matter most to her,” said the film’s director Sarah Kunin. “It’s as much a human story as it is a tech story.”
The hero of the story is technology, but we wanted to be really conscious of how that technology serves the ambitions of Jordan and helps her spend more time on the relationships that matter most to her. It’s as much a human story as it is a tech story.”Sarah Kunin, film director
The interface of tomorrow: More capabilities, less noise
One inspiration for our team was Apple’s 1987 “Knowledge Navigator” video. Navigator is revered in UX circles for its considered depictions of futuristic ideas like the personal assistant, touchscreen interfaces, real-time data access, seamless video calls, and other forward-looking concepts. As with “Minority Report,” the careful execution of UI components is key to making some of these then-abstract ideas more tangible for audiences who are likely unfamiliar with them.
Both “Knowledge Navigator” and “Minority Report” set a very high bar, but we saw trying to rise to it as a worthy challenge for “2030.” One of the key concepts to communicate in Act Two of the video is how multiple agents with dedicated specialties will work on our behalf, all orchestrated by a central “chief of staff” AI agent that manages traffic and judges importance. Just as the professor had his assistant in “Knowledge Navigator,” so too would Jordan have an assistant configured according to her preferences and goals.
Thinking through the interface details of this interaction concept was no small feat. How will digital agents function in a meeting? How will people gathered in a room interact with these AIs? How do we illustrate a future where humans stay in charge?
Liz Trudeau from Salesforce Design led the charge on UX concepting and execution. She worked with the agency Tiny Wins to bring concepts to life in the context of the story.
“Designing futuristic UX concepts is akin to crafting a new world,” said Trudeau. “It demands envisioning a future system and extrapolating technological advancements, yet anchoring these in established human behavioral patterns and the reality that different aspects of life evolve at varying speeds.”
Moreover, this speculative leap helps us codify the core pillars and principles for the AI-first experiences we’re designing right now.”Liz Trudeau, Vice President, Cross-Cloud user experience at Salesforce
Trudeau continued, “With this video, we’re not forecasting the future but exploring potentialities and their ramifications. The goal is not accuracy but to inspire stakeholders and provoke better conversations. Moreover, this speculative leap helps us codify the core pillars and principles for the AI-first experiences we’re designing right now.”
Imagining the future improves the odds of building one you want
After watching the film for the first time, Salesforce Chief Equality Officer Lori Castillo-Martinez drew parallels between a world where technology is easily accessible and one that fosters greater inclusivity for both users and creators of tech products. Other viewers reinforced the importance of centering on the human experience in a future where AI is this powerful. Reactions like these demonstrate how plausible depictions of the future can spur better conversations.
Making the film reminded all of us on the Salesforce Futures team why imagining better futures is so much harder than imagining dystopian ones. As Schwartz’s former colleague Jay Ogilvy put it, “All you have to do to develop a negative scenario is take reality as we know it and kick it to pieces … Positive, optimistic scenarios, on the other hand, lack plausibility if they sound like a view of the future as seen through rose-tinted glasses.”
The Futures team, in collaboration with Salesforce Studios and Salesforce Design, sought to present a future that was both optimistic and plausible.
Looking back on the film, “Futures work isn’t about perfect accuracy,” said Mick Costigan, VP of Salesforce Futures. We’re still early in the real-world application of Gen AI, and we’ll undoubtedly get some details wrong. However, by presenting a well-grounded and ambitious vision, different from what we’ve seen in historic science fiction, we hope to create a conversation, and kickstart others’ imagination too.”
- Watch the full-length film Salesforce 2030: A Glimpse of an AI Future
- Read another perspective on the film’s role in the history of AI
- Learn about Salesforce AI products
Ogilvy, Jay. “Emergence, Story, and the Challenge of Positive Scenarios.” World Futures 70:1 (2014): 52-87.