Will AI replace programmers? The prospect of losing entire professions to automation is a timely topic, with public interest in artificial intelligence at an all-time high. AI’s impact ranges from minimally disruptive to maximally destructive, largely depending on industry. Office work is expected to feel the greatest impact, while manual labor is expected to be impacted least.
How do experts predict the rise in the use of AI will impact software development? Do software developers have a promising future in the industry?
Table of Contents
What is AI?
Merriam-Webster defines AI (artificial intelligence) as “the capability of computer systems or algorithms to imitate intelligent human behavior.” This definition is broad and implies an intrinsic closeness to the software industry, denoting both computer systems and algorithms.
When did AI Infiltrate Software Development?
Artificial intelligence is not a particularly new development. With the term artificial intelligence first surfacing in 1956, the concept is inherently linked to computing and machine learning. This may seem surprising, as AI has become an extremely popular topic as of late.
So why is AI so relevant right now? The relevance of AI can be best explained by the democratization of AI rather than the genesis of a new technology. AI is not new, but the ability for the public to experiment with AI in a non-research setting is newer. Put a different way, AI has been changing and evolving for many decades, but the ability for an individual to play with ChatGPT or generate a lookalike image on a personal smartphone is a newer development.
AI is inherently linked with software and has been present in software development for a long time; this is nothing new. This is meaningful now, however, because huge leaps have been made in areas such as AI-generated programming.
Do We Still Need Programmers?
One analogy to understand AI’s impact on the current state of software development relates to the writing profession. Historically, software programmers were the copywriters of the software development world; they wrote the code that comprises applications. With new developments in AI, some technologies and software platforms change the role of the software developer to that of copyeditor. A programmer now may not be the original author of AI-created code, but they edit and refine the code to ensure it works properly.
Certain AI-based programs can quickly learn the intended use of sample code and then replicate or complete the code without intervention from a programmer. However, supervision is necessary to check the final product for errors, scope, etc. Did the correct part of the code iterate? Did the scope change? Did the AI-generated code impact other areas of the application? Did the AI-generated code create any unintended impacts? Human supervision and testing are therefore still required to ensure successful delivery of an application.
In short, human programmers are crucially important and can expect a bright future in software development. The ability to supervise and verify AI-created code requires a deep understanding of both application architecture and software development. The skillset required is likely to shift away from monotonous “hard coding” and toward meticulous testing and error checking.
How is AI Impacting Software Development?
With improvements in machine learning, software development is faster. Code created by AI can be developed much more quickly than code that is written entirely by a programmer. As noted above, such code requires a thorough confirmation and testing process, but overall, software development is faster than ever before, largely thanks to improvements in AI.
AI-aided application development takes fewer hours and fewer personnel to complete. Development cost follows the time required; applications that take less time to develop are cheaper. This is a welcome advancement for many organizations, as custom development projects may now be attainable on a smaller budget.
AI is also infiltrating low-code platforms, such as OutSystems, by utilizing artificial intelligence to hasten development. Low-code platforms are allowing “citizen developers,” or tech-savvy individuals without traditional coding knowledge, to create applications by interacting with visual interfaces rather than lines of code. Low-code development may be limited in scope compared to traditional programming, but is vastly successful for many organizations that are seeking low-code development for a common use case. Said limitations of low-code platforms can be almost entirely resolved with professional technical oversight.
The recent popularity of AI is best attributed to the democratization of AI rather than the emergence of a new phenomenon. AI has been around for decades, but recent advancements are disrupting many industries. The software industry is greatly impacted by the prominence of AI, in that application development is faster, cheaper, and becoming more accessible to non-programmers. However, software developers can expect a bright future in the industry, as human oversight is very much required as a complement to AI-aided development.
Lu, Marcus. “Ranking Industries by Their Potential for AI Automation.” Visual Capitalist, 27 Jun. 2023, www.visualcapitalist.com/sp/ranking-industries-by-their-potential-for-ai-automation/. Accessed 5 Feb. 2024.
Anyoha, Rockwell. “The History of Artificial Intelligence.” Harvard University’S Science in the News, 28 Aug. 2017, sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/history-artificial-intelligence/. Accessed 5 Feb. 2024.