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AI poses huge opportunities for print

Future Print recently hosted its first AI for Print Conference to discuss how AI can be adopted within print

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Future Print's first AI for Print event took place at the Moller Institute, Cambridge last week

Founded by Marcus Timson and Frazer Chesterman, Future Print recently hosted its first AI for Print Conference to explore how the hot topic could affect and benefit print.

The event was held at the Møller Institute in Cambridge and saw 16 speakers explore a variety of insights including using generative AI for content creation and market research, using AI to generate images and haptics for packaging, and even making accessing educational materials easier. 

At the Summit of ‘Mount Hype’

In Timson’s welcome address, he admitted that it was hard to know where to begin with compiling the schedule for the day with AI being such a fast-evolving space.

Timson described the current status of AI as being “at the summit of Mount Hype” and referred delegates to the Gartner Hype Cycle, comparing the current hype around AI to the hype around 3D printing in 2012.

Marcus Timson, co-founder of Future Print started off the day with a welcome address

Currently, generative AI is considered to be at the very top of its “hype cycle” and it’s hoped that AI can be used to bridge the technology gaps from what Timson described as “the great resignation”. 

Describing Gen Z as being distracted with print not even on their radar, it was also proposed that AI could be used to solve the challenge of attracting young talent and position the industry as a forward-thinking technology adopter.

Timson rounded up his welcome address with a question that set the focus for the day: Is AI Frankenstein’s Monster or the key to a brighter future?

Not a New Technology 

Representing Gen Z himself, Finn Karsten, founder of KnowledgeBrief, started his talk by highlighting a fact that would pop up throughout the conference – that AI has in fact been around for a long time but has blown up recently thanks to generative AI. 

Generative AI uses techniques to learn from data about existing artifacts and uses this to generate new artifacts (Gartner). Ghat GPT is a form of generative AI. It is an OpenAI service that incorporates a conversational chatbot with LLM (large language models) to create content. 

Finn Karsten founded KnowledgeBrief late last year 

He also clarified that most of the “scary news” we see around AI is actually usually related to AGI (artificial general intelligence). AGI is described by Gartner as a form of AI that possesses the ability to understand, learn, and apply knowledge across a wide range of tasks and domains. It is currently unknown when AGI will become available.

Karsten also highlighted differences between the UK and the EU in terms of regulating AI with the UK favouring an ‘innovation first with regulation as we go’ approach and the EU regulating technologies first.

The ethical considerations of AI is still something that is being figured out and Karsten predicts there will be a stronger use of watermarking to identify when AI has been used. 

A Brief History of…

Eri Ruben, general manager and VP of DeepCube helpfully outlined the history of AI further highlighting that it has been around for some time – over 60 years in fact.

Artificial Intelligence first came around in 1960, with machine learning following in 1990, and deep learning first appearing in 2014. Ruben described deep learning as “the real engine behind the AI revolution” and predicts by 2025 this technology will be being applied to Industry 5.0.

He also added that “AI is not an off-the-shelf solution” with DeepCube tailoring its solutions for specific needs.

Introduced Little by Little

Tom Peire, CEO and Chief Evangelist of Four Pees Software highlighted how the print industry can become more profitable by implementing digitalisation and automation. 

Reflecting on AI for the print industry, Peire says: “It’s only the gimics and services of AI that have really grabbed our attention. It’s not going to be a revolution. It’s going to be gradually introduced little by little.” 

The ways Peire predicts AI will be introduced into print are in the form of chatbots for customer engagement, for the creation of imagery and video, within print production itself in pixel creation, better bleed, and for smarter print layouts and ganging/nesting.

Other ways for AI to be used is within business management and programs such as ChatGPT can be used to gather data and ask questions such as what price your competitor offers. 

AI for Content and Research

Karis Copp, founder of Karis Copp Media and Editor of Future Print provided an interesting insight into the use of generative AI for content strategy and digging deeper into a topic. 

The first section of Copp’s talk involved her walking the audience through how she came up with the name of her talk – The Muse in the Machine: Sparking Creativity with Generative AI – by using ChatGPT. 

Karis Copp, founder of Karis Copp Media and Editor of Future Print gave some examples of generative AI tools

Copp went on to provide a list of generative AI tools and explained how she uses these for strategic planning and research. She was keen to emphasise that this isn’t to be used in place of immersing yourself into a topic but as a way of “letting AI do what it’s way better at doing, analysing large data sets”.

Other ways AI can be used that were highlighted by Copp included brainstorming, delving deeper into creative concepts, as well as bouncing off to see if an idea is good or not. This can be particularly useful if you’re part of a small team or freelance and need to bounce ideas off someone (or something!).

Copp made sure to remind the audience that “AI is not perfect, it hallucinates. Do your fact-checking and due diligence,” she warned. 

Human-like Metaphors 

The IPIA (Independent Print Industries Association) services the entire industry through its members as well as lobbying for print to the Government. According to Brendan Perring, general manager of the IPIA, “the verocity of debate around the topic is strong”.

The topic of AI in itself is a minefield and the subject is made all the more confusing by the variety of forms it can come in. Whilst AI simulates human intelligence to perform tasks and make decisions, machine learning (ML) is a subset of AI that uses algorithms to learn patterns for data. Deep learning (DL) is a subset of machine learning that employs artificial neural networks for complex tasks (Analytics Vidhya). 

Perring highlighted the sophistication of generative AI during his talk by presenting two metaphors describing the definitions of AI, machine learning, and deep learning. 

The audience was asked to raise their hands and vote for which metaphor they believed was written by Perring (a human) and which was written by AI. Interestingly, over 50% of the audience believed the metaphor written by AI was Perring’s version.

AI for Colour Optimisation

Jàn Morovic of HP discussed how AI can be used for optimising printed colour, starting his talk by stating: “AI is nothing new, AI is all new”, emanating the themes of the day so far. 

Morovic also emphasised that AI needs to generate ROI in order for it to be worth integrating within a business, and went on to give some examples of where AI can generate ROI within colour optimisation.

These included colour chart optimisation, ink efficiency optimisation, cross-substrate colour prediction, automated image analysis, quality control/computer vision to assist in detecting colour discrepancies, semantic colour understanding, and ICC profile adjustments.

AI for Image Creation

Springfield Solutions is a company that has already adopted AI within its operations and provided the audience with a walkthrough of how it uses Adobe Firefly to generate images using AI to aid in the creative design process.

Matt Dass, managing director of Springfield and James Cherry, head of EON Visual Media, discussed the two companies’ partnership and their shared focus on innovation. 

In real time, the pair used Adobe Firefly to produce a label for a lemonade bottle, providing the software with prompts which it used to produce a piece of artwork.

It was interesting to see how the artwork differed to the design produced by a (human) designer, but how the same themes were utilised using prompts such as ‘Hawaii’, ‘lemonade’, and ‘Hull’. 

Dass and Cherry explained that rather than replacing in-house designers, this use of AI can be used as a fast way to be inspired, rather than trawling through Google Images. 

Dass and Cherry also showcased a spot varnish pattern that had been created using AI. For this, Springfield used Firefly to provide prompts to create an image of a ‘soft wave’ and the image was then used as the spot varnish plate for a label design, giving the label a tactile feel. 

AI in Education 

Demonstrating the extremely broad reach of AI across all corners of the industry, Elizabeth Bowerman of UK printer for education Stephen Austin highlighted ways that AI can be used to bridge the gap between SEN (special educational needs) children and accessing educational content.

Due to the nature of Stephen Austin’s work printing educational content such as exam papers, the jobs are extremely time sensitive and need to be 100% accurate every time.

According to Bowerman, AI can be used to produce personalised learning materials by analysing student performance data and adapting printed materials to meet individual learning needs. 

AI can also be used to create educational content by generating summaries, quizzes, and study guides from existing print materials. Interestingly, Bowerman also highlighted that students have asked to go back to paper materials rather than digital, demonstrating the preference of the traditional printed format amongst learners.

An Important Role in Print

Wrapping up the day was David Stephenson of Global Graphics Software which was the sponsor of the event. Reflecting back on the various topics and applications covered in the talks, Stephenson said: “What we’ve learned today is that AI has a very important role to play in production print”.

David Stephenson of event sponsor Global Graphics Software, delivered the final talk of the day 

Echoing the points made by previous speakers, Stephenson highlighted a number of ways AI can be utilised such as driving print on demand and personalisation and reducing inventory costs and offering greater flexibility in niche markets. 

“We’ve all learned today that AI is a way to solve problems and manage complex data in a way that leads to novel solutions. This is the promise of AI,” Stephenson concluded.

The Buzz is Here to Stay

The key message that shone though during the day was that whilst AI has been around for a long time, it is now becoming more widely acknowledged and its potential is being realised thanks to LLM and generative AI.

This is generating somewhat of a buzz as more and more businesses implement it within their operations to streamline production, aid in accuracy, save time and resources for skilled workers to be utilised elsewhere, and also help in the creative process with mental blocks and gaining inspiration. 

So, whilst the topic is still very much a minefield, it is one that poses massive opportunities for the print industry with a multitude of ways that it can be implemented depending on your individual business needs. 

It is however something that is evolving quickly and will require continuous research and tracking in order to reap the full rewards AI has to offer.

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