Artificial intelligence in the printing industry? Yes, undoubtedly it will come. But the smarter the systems becomes, the higher the risk that they will no longer be controllable.

Everyone who knows me well also knows how difficult the following sentence is for me: These days I am enthusiastic about Chancellor Merkel! During her visit to the soon to be former emperor, Tenno Akihito of Japan, she visited Keio University and spoke about the “uncontrolled use of artificial intelligence”. Well, you might think, this lady doesn’t know anything about it anyway – but what came on the table as the core statement has me “concerned”.

Yes, admittedly: I am fascinated by AI (Artificial Intelligence) and robots that can make life easier for us in print production and optimize our work processes. But I’m also thinking about those who should operate these machines – and what will happen to the many workers we’ve employed thus far? A 400-euro worker who urgently needs the money will not become a robot operator overnight. And the colleague at the punching machine is not an AI programmer either. So, what is going to happen? If employees are no longer needed, then they will be rationalized away. Cynics would now say: “Well – if they had learned something clever – then nothing would stand in the way of continued employment”. That’s not just cynical, it’s cruelly ruthless!

To be honest, what should you have learned (or been able to learn) ten or 20 years ago in order to be an operator in an industrial 4.0 company today? When using AI and robotics one or the other employee falls by the wayside! Employees whose knowledge of paper behavior, printing properties, etc. Knowledge we actually urgently need. Literally.

And that is the next question: Where do we obtain workers that are blessed with the know-how of a technician, programmer and a printing or finishing specialist? Where can such employees be trained at all? Can you learn something like this anywhere? Questions that one likes to forget despite all the euphoria about the blessings of technology.

Now I have discussed these issues intensively with Jörg Schieb, who wrote books about computers in the 1980s, which I devoured by the meter. As an ARD expert for the IT and online world, he is someone who not only approaches online topics with chutzpah and joy, but always with a critical eye. In a conversation with him (see beyond-print.de or beyond-print.unplugged) – I got exactly the thoughts described above. Who will ultimately pay for this beautiful new online world with AI and robotics?

Now we could say: “Anyway – we print online, optimize until the air burns. That’s our ecosystem and we don’t care about the rest”. But from a social point of view, you still have to think about it. Why? Because every employee also maintains his or her own economic ecosystem: His or her family. And they buy online, print (sometimes) online, order photo books or whatever – so they are part of our market. But what if we throw out all those whose jobs we can automate? Yes, the return is right – short-term. But in the long run?

“In the printing industry, we urgently need employees with qualification level 4.0, i.e. employees who are able to understand the digital interrelationships in Print 4.0 and can be deployed within this digital value chain.” – Bernd Zipper

And now Chancellor Merkel comes along and sums it up: “What we do must serve man”. The woman is a physicist, not a priest – but she admonishes that AI must be demystified and that we should develop a “sober attitude” to its use. She further asks: “If I could get a chip into my brain so that I could think faster or better – am I still the same person? In her remarks she explains that someday one will read thinking and asks: “Do we want that? She is right. We have to develop ethical “guard rails” for the use of artificial intelligence – and I add – robotics. We need to think about how we deal with these issues and how we empower people to master AI and co. Just to avoid destroying the “production – sales – consumption – production” cycle. We cannot disrupt everything away just to generate a higher return in the short term.

Well, now you may ask, what has Zipper got into now? Does he have an acute attack of human social behavior? Doesn’t matter, because it stays true: Only if technology remains to serve people and not the other way around will we earn money in the long term. And that applies to almost every industry. Automation is good – I’m one of its biggest fans. However, at the same time we have to enable people to master this automation and make it “useful”.

So, what remains? The legendary aircraft pioneer and entrepreneur Hugo Junkers acted according to the motto: “Whoever is stronger than others, bares a shared responsibility for them”. In this sense, two demands weigh on us, as entrepreneurs, as managers and as participants in the overall system:

  1. TRAINING! We need prudent training for our employees so that they can operate, master and further develop the machines of Generation Industry 4.0. These 4.0 employees must be trained and given further education. Schools, guilds, universities and ultimately also associations have a duty here.
  2. RULES! We need ethical rules on how we deal with industry 4.0! Rules for how we can place people who we no longer need in the assembly process elsewhere or at least offer them a prospective for further qualifications – with our support.

My take: It is interesting that Jörg Schieb thinks in the same direction with regard to Google and Co: AI must be controlled. And this is precisely the topic Chancellor Merkel wants to place at the G20 summit. There must be a common, international approach and a plan to protect people from the “omnipotent” data Kraken. A good resolution – and it’s about time that one of the world’s leading industrial nations (yes, we still are – despite all blasphemy) starts a process and a discussion. This is necessary, because very few people are aware of what lies ahead. Therefore, a social discourse is necessary now – otherwise we serve the data kraken as an ecosystem: as powerless data providers and manipulatable elements. Wow – I didn’t know that I could get so excited about this topic.

How do you feel about it? Write to me: bz@beyond-print.de

Good luck! – it will be fine 😉

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Comment: AI - Where does this leave humans?
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Artificial intelligence in the printing industry? Yes, undoubtedly it will come. But the smarter the systems becomes, the higher the risk that they will no longer be controllable.
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