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Food & Beverage

Asahi steps outside the design box with AI art

Project generates creative packaging while avoiding groupthink trap

Asahi's "AI Creator System" can generate a variety of designs based on a given theme, such as "tea."

TOKYO -- A common hazard in the corporate world is groupthink: the tendency of members of a group to fall in line with a consensus, out of a desire to conform or to anticipate what higher-ups want to see.

This phenomenon can lead to blinkered thinking and, in many cases, irrational or bad results. The risk of such an outcome is high in Japan, where harmony and consensus are prized as virtues and it can be difficult to think independently rather than "read the room."

As an exercise in breaking out of the groupthink box, Japanese beverage maker Asahi Group Holdings has partnered with an artificial intelligence company to develop the "AI Creator System," a way to come up with creative new package designs.

The goal of the project, according to the company, is to consider designs that are "free and objective" -- and not necessarily the sort of content normally associated with Asahi -- rather than being "subjective and bound by past experience and imagery." Testing of the system began in April.

Around 6,000 designs reflecting current trends, sourced from around the internet and social media, are fed into the system, each tagged with such keywords as "summer," "morning" and "refreshing."

Based on this input, the AI automatically generates its own designs, whose quality is judged by 300 outside designers. The AI uses this feedback to improve its output, "learning" from each iteration of the process.

In this trial phase, the system "came out with content that wasn't Asahi-ish," a representative said, adding that the goal for now is just to increase the material available to work with.

Asahi has a history of turning its back on past successes and getting by with outside help.

One representative example is the Wonda Morning Shot canned coffee drink, which came out in 2002. The idea of a product to help consumers wake up in the morning, as well as the red packaging, were both innovative at the time. The Morning Shot perked up the company's then-sluggish canned-coffee sales.

Outside brands form a cornerstone of Asahi's soft-drink business. Wilkinson soda and Mitsuya cider were both brought into the company via acquisitions, and the popular Monster Energy drink is an American product to which Asahi bought exclusive Japanese rights in 2012.

Makers of consumer goods are taking to AI in various ways. Kao is adopting the technology for skin testing. RNA is collected from sebum for AI to analyze. The company says it uses the results to determine the conditions of customers' skin, sort out the risks, and apply the information to preventive care and making products.

Kao is busy preparing a skin diagnosis service at its Beauty Base center in Tokyo, although the rollout has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. Although cosmetics by definition are subject to arbitrary standards of beauty, men and women alike are growing more conscious of their skin. This will likely increase the value of AI's objectivity.

Long-running megahit "One Piece" almost didn't become a manga series at all -- it is now the world's top-selling one -- when editors at Shonen Jump magazine famously resisted at first.

A line in a recent chapter encapsulates the need to embrace the offbeat to produce a hit: "You only fear what is different out of ignorance!"

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