If you work in software development or are interested in becoming a software developer, you have likely wondered, will AI replace software engineers? The natural language processing capabilities of AI tools are impressive.
However, should software developers be concerned about the future of their jobs? Will sophisticated AI systems render human software engineers obsolete? Many human developers, writers, actors, musicians, etc., are concerned about the rise of AI and what it will mean for their livelihoods and society at large.
This post will explore the topic of Artificial Intelligence and software development. However, if you feel like generative AI may impact your industry or job prospects, this post also applies to you; the information within can help you understand the impacts and implications of generative AI.
A Basic Understanding of Generative AI
Before we can explore the impact AI will have on software engineering and programming jobs, it is important to understand the technology we are talking about. We typically refer to generative AI when we use the term AI or reference AI systems.
Generative AI has been a hot topic in the tech industry as of late, thanks in large part to the impressive capabilities of ChatGPT and other large language models. Schools, workplaces, and even courts have grappled with the ethics and practicality of using these AI tools to write papers, briefs, promotional materials, etc.
These tools have even been used to write code, leading people to believe they will replace programmers and other human workers. However, are these fears based on reality, actual performance, or some science fiction idea about what these tools are?
The issue with a term like Artificial Intelligence is that, for many people, it connotes human or even superhuman levels of reasoning, problem-solving, logic, and creativity. The immense popularity of science fiction in film and literature plays a big part in this misconception.
Artificial Intelligence systems like ChatGPT are sophisticated language models and Machine Learning algorithms. These tools can complete repetitive tasks and generate content or even code based on the probability of the next outcome.
Essentially, these tools predict what is likely to come next based on the immense amount of training data it has consumed. To many people, this can appear to be thought or even creativity, but it is far from that capability.
Artificial General Intelligence, intelligence that works like a human mind, is far from a reality, and there is significant debate amongst scientists, philosophers, and developers about whether that level of intelligence is even possible to create in a machine.
Can AI Replace Software Engineers?
Now that we understand what AI is, will AI impact programming jobs? In short, yes, AI will impact software engineering, but as it currently stands, AI cannot replace software developers.
Human programmers should be able to leverage AI to improve code quality and automate mundane coding tasks like writing boilerplate code. Software engineers should view these new technologies as tools to help them code faster and better, not as competitors that will eventually replace them.
AI technologies can assist programmers with the following development tasks:
- Improve code quality – by analyzing code and identifying potential vulnerabilities and offering suggestions
- Automate low-level tasks – by generating code for repetitive and mundane tasks like debugging that require little to no creativity or problem solving
- Increase efficiency – in addition to automation, AI can increase development efficiency by offering real-time suggestions and code examples
Is AI capable of generating code based on the wide range of programming languages it has been trained on? Yes. However, these tools do not possess the ability to reason or think creatively, even if they appear to do so.
As a result, they are not in a position to replace human developers. These tools produce outputs based on learned patterns. While this might produce fewer bugs in simple boilerplate code, it cannot produce anything new.
The Limitations of AI
Artificial Intelligence, like ChatGPT, is a far cry from the intelligence possessed by humans. As we have mentioned, Artificial General Intelligence is more the realm of science fiction than reality.
Organizations should not seek to replace software developers, writers, artists, musicians, etc., with generative AI because the end product these tools can produce lacks genuine creativity.
AI tools should be used to augment the tasks completed by humans but not used to replace them. While you might get excited by these tools’ capabilities, they are more limited than they appear.
The main problem of these AI systems is that they only “know” what they have been taught. Even with massive training sets that include all of the information currently available to humans, there is a significant blind spot, and that is the ability to think outside of the box with genuine creativity.
For example, imagine ChatGPT existed in the late 19th century. Furthermore, imagine ChatGPT was trained on all of the world’s data, which it isn’t. In this example, if you asked ChatGPT to write you a Jazz song, it would be incapable of doing so since the concept of Jazz had yet to exist.
ChatGPT wouldn’t be capable of creating Jazz because this concept doesn’t fit the pattern of what it knows about music in this example. This tool can’t innovate or imagine new possibilities.
This example illustrates why these tools will never replace humans. Software development, while being a technical discipline, requires immense creativity. To truly innovate and develop new concepts, you need a human mind.
Until Artificial General Intelligence is accomplished, software developers and other positions don’t have to worry about being replaced by AI. In fact, recent studies suggest that generative AI models are getting less effective and less accurate.
AI technologies are exciting tools, but they are not going to replace humans any time soon, especially in the field of software engineering. If you want to learn more about generative AI or software engineering, contact an experienced development partner like Koombea.