Is AI Coming for the Sign and Graphics Industry Next?
Lately, it seems like you can’t turn on the news or browse the Internet without finding someone talking about AI. Whether it is the legality of teaching AI art generators using real artist’s images, so-called deepfakes of real-looking photos of people or places that don’t exist, think tanks putting out alarmist calls that AI is on the cusp of taking over the world, or even blog posts written entirely by a computer (I promise, I am still 100% human — terrible sense of humor and all) AI is making waves everywhere.
Print and graphics are no exception.
The press release linked above is from Toppan, extolling a new product they are getting ready to test using AI generated, high resolution, full sizes images of people as part of signage and graphics. They claim the idea is to allow “users to converse and interact with life-size, photorealistic virtual humans created using automated generation technology.”
Not only will these “people” be generated by AI, but they also envision them being able to interact with consumers and passers-by, answering questions, giving directions, and more. The test, which will launch this month in a single building in China, will seek to “look into how people are affected by interacting with virtual humans designed to be more realistic, their feelings about it, and how to ensure the best possible user experience.”
This is another massive leap forward for an industry still grappling with the best ways to make print live harmoniously with technologies like digital signage, augmented reality, and even virtual reality. When the sign can seemingly come to life, when it is no longer a sign and is suddenly something more? Who will oversee managing these projects? How will an AI person who lives in a sign enrich — or not — a brand’s marketing efforts? These are the types of questions we are going to have to find answers for, far more quickly than anyone likely expected.
Even with some of the most recognized names in technology starting to advocate slowing down the AI train a bit, it is unlikely this particular cat is going back into its proverbial bag. AI has likely already surpassed a tipping point where we can pull back, or even slow, its progression, as every major technology company, in every major sector, seeks to find new ways to incorporate it into their offerings. There will be hiccups along the way — Chatbots having existential crises, Popes in puffy coats, ex-Presidents being dragged away in handcuffs — but AI will only continue to learn and grow and get better.
There are a lot of arguments that can be made around what the AI-powered future looks like, and how afraid we should be, but there is no denying it is going to play a major role in the next evolution of our world and the way we communicate with one another. Print has been at the forefront of human communication from the very first time we discovered we could tell stories by painting things on the walls of our caves — it’s not going to be killed off by AI, any more than any other technology has managed to herald its demise.
That said, smart printers of all shapes, sizes, and print technologies should be keeping a very, very close eye on AI, and be thinking about the ways it can be incorporated into the business. If printers don’t step up and claim the AI marketing and communications space, someone else will. We can help shape the way AI is used in and influences marketing, signage, and general communication efforts — don’t let this opportunity pass you by.
Toni McQuilken is the senior editor for the printing and packaging group.