Print21 Magazine: AI marching into print

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Customer Experience consultant Scott Telfer asks if Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the next digital disruption for customers.

Examining AI: Scott Telfer

Have you ever asked Siri a question? If so you are not alone: 98 per cent of all iPhone users have used Siri at least once. However, only two per cent use Siri on a regular basis. It feels a bit odd doesn’t it, to speak into a device? At times it is frustrating as we have to often repeat the question, but it is something we had better get used to.

Siri, or similar products like the Amazon version Alexa, or Google Assistant, are what we know as AI or artificial intelligence. Slowly over time these devices have been slipping into companies at an increasing rate. Soon you will not be able to pick the difference if you are speaking to real human or AI machine. Insurance companies and telcos are the biggest adopters of this type of technology.

Recently my wife commented on how easy it was for her to change some billing details for her mobile phone plan. What would usually take a long time, while waiting for someone to answer, was done in minutes by using the live chat feature of the telco. She was surprised at how easy and uncomplicated it was for a slightly complicated matter. AI is happening right now.

It is predicted that 30 per cent of businesses will employ AI in at least one sales process by next year, and – get this – one billion AI cameras will be monitoring cities around the globe by end of next year.

In our print industry the use of robotics has been around for some time. I remember at Hannanprint (IPMG) back in 1985 using AGVs (automatic guided vehicles) to deliver paper to web presses and printed product to the bindery. It was, to any manufacturing company, cutting edge technology. It was in its form the first usage of robotic type machines. They are what the AI industry today would describe as weak AI, designed to do a particular task only. Siri is also an example of weak AI, on a totally different level.

Now companies are building strong AI machines, with generalised human cognitive abilities. When presented with an unfamiliar task, they have enough intelligence to find a solution. Is that where our industry is heading, for example with robo journalism?

To find out more, I asked a number of leading print and graphic arts identities what they thought about AI and what could they envisage for the future. From my research, I found while there is some AI happening in our industry, it is only on a small scale.

Everyone I have spoken to is aware of AI, and has either had conversations or so-called live chats using AI bots. Mark Brown, product marketing manager at Konica Minolta, says that the potential of AI is huge, telling me “It’s a key technology for a host of our future developments across software and hardware”.

Craig Johns from one of Sydney’s leading graphic designers, Thursday Design, tells me, “Websites will be readymade and ideal for AI. Maybe generic rebrands for small to medium size companies.”

In the printing industry, we can see many backroom jobs that could be done by AI, such as accounting, smart scheduling, and phone reception. What about more complex tasks such as estimating jobs that are more than standard size and finishes?

The use of AI in the industry will be slow to start with; however, once adoption takes place there will be a rapid uptake. John Wanless from Bambra Press thinks it's only a “matter of time” before the impact of AI will affect our industry.

The use of smart algorithms will be first, for example, in determining the best layouts with the optimal sheet size. Currently this can done for example via programs such as Metrix from EFI or any number of layout systems. Instead of inputting the data manually, what if it had voice recognition for inputting sizes, and could be done from a remote location? In the direct mailing or catalogue sector, the use of algorithms can make mailing even more beneficial. For example, we know how powerful web ads are – what if, when you searched for a product, this then automatically generated a personal brochure or catalogue that was then mailed to you? This is really omnichannel, cross content marketing.

Self diagnostic machines/devices have been with us for some time; however, the next generation of self diagnosing devices will be a lot smarter. According to Mark Brown, the use of RPA (robotic process automation) will really accelerate. Mark says there are two types of RPAs: attended RPA, which needs human intervention for decisions, and unattended RPA, which needs no human intervention. This non-human intervention type will be used in machines in the future for more complex diagnostics, other than the position of image on the sheet. It will automatically order parts and do the delivery to site for technician.

In the print industry, we are in the middle of serious disruption from other forms of media – is AI the next digital disruptor? Mark Brown from Konica Minolta says “It already is”, however Craig Johns from Thursday Design says no. My personal belief is AI will be another wake up call for our industry, and we have to make sure our customers are not left uniformed about the potential benefits they could have from using artificial intelligence. In the end it will be our customers who will be the ones that drive this innovation, as they streamline their offerings.

Will the print industry giants respond to digital disruption with speedboat agility, or succumb to oil tanker mentality and miss opportunities by not changing direction quickly enough?

We ignore it at our own peril, as when the first digital presses came out, and look where that got us.

For a free one hour consultation please contact Scott on 0413 382 528 or email him at

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