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Robert Johns | 04 Dec, 2023

Will AI Replace Programmers? You Might Be Surprised

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Will AI replace programmers? Should we all pack up and make way for AI to do our jobs for us?

This is a hot topic, and in this article, I will try to answer the question, will AI replace programmers?

To do this, I’ll explore the growing influence of AI on programming, how AI can help us as programmers, the key limitations of AI, and the future of programming with AI.

I’ll also talk about the impact of AI on programming jobs.

Spoiler alert: I do not think AI will replace us as programmers any time soon, but I do think you need to be ready to adapt, evolve, and work with AI to stay competitive.

If you’re ready, let’s dive in!

The Growing Influence of AI on Programming

I think it’s fair to say that 2024 has been a banner year for AI-powered tools like ChatGPT.

But how have AI technologies influenced programming?

Great question! And it’s one that I’ll try to answer in this article!

With 77% of developers in favor of AI tools and around 44% using them daily, we’ve all become aware that AI can generate code, fix bugs, and accelerate the software development process.

It’s also adopted a significant role in personalized learning for new programmers, not to mention the advent of collaborative tools like AI coding assistants

But how big of a risk is AI to the human programmer? Are we all going to be replaced by AI? And should we even bother to learn to program?

Well, you might find a range of opinions on this subject, but despite huge advancements, one thing is for certain: there is still a crucial need for human oversight with any AI.

This is especially true in ethical decision-making and creative problem-solving.

Consider that we can now create our own GPT models, but it’s still essential that we as humans oversee them to ensure they work as they should. 

That said, I think the synergy of AI and human expertise is reshaping the programming landscape in real-time. 

But am I worried about AI replacing programmers? Well, to be quite honest, I’m not, but I do think there is a lot to unpack, so let’s take a closer look at this question.

(Note that I also made a YouTube video discussing whether AI will replace programmers).

 

How Artificial Intelligence Helps Programmers

Now, I know this article is supposed to be about whether AI is going to replace us as programmers. Spoiler alert: it’s not!

But, rather than getting ourselves worked up, let’s look at how AI actually helps us as programmers. 

Yes, AI can be our friend, not our foe! 

How Artificial Intelligence Helps Programmers

Code Generation

To my mind, AI's most visible impact on programming has to be code generation from human language prompts.

Whether we’re talking about AI coding assistants or large language models like ChatGPT, we can now get real-time suggestions or entire blocks of code based on natural language inputs. 

I’m honestly still astonished by this to be honest, as I’ve spent so much of my own programming career reading books and searching the Internet for coding help. 

But it’s here to stay, and this capability significantly reduces the time I have to spend on boilerplate code.

This is great, as it means that coders can focus on the complex and innovative aspects of our projects.

That said, here is a big disclaimer: whenever you use any type of AI to help with your coding, do not blindly assume that the code is functional, accurate, or performant.

Maybe I should have started with this, but in general, you should not assume that the AI has produced good code.

It might look great and downright convincing, but it’s always your job as a programmer to sign off on any code you produce.

Code Optimization 

Running a close second to generating code, AI is also amazing at helping us optimize code for performance and efficiency. 

Having been trained on frankly enormous data sets, these AI tools can suggest optimizations that might not be immediately apparent to us as human programmers. 

They’re also helpful with refactoring code for better performance, reducing memory usage, and improving overall computational efficiency.

Code Translation

If you’ve spent any real-time programming, you’ve probably run into a scenario when you need to translate a codebase into another language.

That’s fine if you know the other language or someone on your team does, but what if this is not the case?

This is again where AI is helpful, as it can help us convert code from one programming language to another. 

This is also a great way to learn another language, as you can use AI to translate sections of your code and also explain what’s going on.

Now, of course, this process is not without its hiccups, but in general, code translation has always been a time-consuming and error-prone process when done manually.

So, at the very least, you can save a lot of time by using AI.

Task Automation & Testing 

One of the main reasons for writing programs is to let the computer do mundane tasks for us.

Well, we can take this a step further by letting AI automate repetitive tasks in software development, including software testing

I really like this idea, as you can use AI to write, run, and evaluate tests, speeding up the development cycle. 

As always, you should not blindly trust AI to create appropriate or even accurate tests, but if you know what you want and you understand how it should look, this can be a huge time saver.

Bug Fixing & Error Detection 

Another common use case for AI is to help with bug fixing and error detection. 

I have to admit, I’m not 100% sure how I feel about this, as I’ve always enjoyed the process of figuring out a bug and fixing it.

It’s also one of the best ways to really learn to program - break it, fix it, understand it.

That said, it’s important to move with the times, and AI can be really good at scanning code for patterns, anomalies, and bugs.

This is especially helpful with subtle errors that humans might overlook. 

And once the bugs have been identified, AI can also suggest corrections and fixes that can enhance the reliability and security of my code.

Now, with all that being true, I’m still a huge advocate for trying to fix things yourself when you’re starting out, as it’s a great learning tool.

But if you have more experience, AI can help you speed up the development process, and you should be able to learn from the errors that the AI spots for you.

Estimating Project Timelines

Up until now, making predictions about how long a software project will take has generally been quite challenging.

But with the help of AI, we can analyze past project timelines while also considering factors like project scope, complexity, team size, and developer performance. 

With this, we can use AI to provide more accurate estimates for project completion, making this one of the more nuanced yet hugely beneficial roles of AI in programming.

This can be particularly helpful in agile development environments where flexibility and adaptability are key. 

The Limitations of AI in Programming

Now, I’ve spent some time extolling the virtues of AI and how it can help us with our programming.

But it’s also really important to understand the limitations of AI.

That’s right, it’s not all time-saving and performance gains! 

Let’s take a look at some of the most common limitations we need to keep in mind.

Bad Code Generation

One of the primary limitations of AI in programming is the risk of generating bad or inefficient code that lacks accuracy.

Sure, AI tools can write code quickly, but they sometimes produce solutions that are not optimized or are overly complex. 

This is particularly true when the AI lacks sufficient training data or encounters scenarios outside its training scope. 

GitHub copilot is a great example of this, as while it’s been trained on massive amounts of public repos, it tends to do better with popular languages versus more obscure languages.

The net result is that developers always need to review and refine AI-generated code.

Security Risks

This is a biggie, as one of the biggest considerations when entering the world of AI for programming is the potential for security risks.

For example, code that’s generated by AI may inadvertently include vulnerabilities or loopholes, especially if the AI was trained on datasets that include insecure coding practices. 

There’s also the risk that the AI uses your proprietary code in ways that you don’t approve of, especially if you haven’t read the fine print or checked your settings.

So, the key takeaway is that you need to be extra vigilant to ensure that your use of AI does not compromise your application’s security.

Lack of Innovative Solutions

AI systems, by their nature, are limited to the level of innovation that they’ve been exposed to during their training. 

This limitation can lead to a lack of innovative solutions in programming, and the AI might also recycle known patterns and solutions.

Sure, this might be fine, but on the other hand, it can also result in a lack of creativity or novel approaches that we, as human programmers, can conceive.

Lack of Understanding Context and Nuance

Now sure, AI tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard might sound lifelike, but they are just machines.

Because of this, they tend to struggle with understanding the broader context and nuances of a project. 

In particular, when the time comes to understand user needs, business goals, or implement unique problem-solving, the limitations of AI are quite clear. 

So, while they excel at handling tasks with clear-cut rules and objectives,  they are not so great at interpreting vague or complex requirements. 

Spoiler alert: human programmers are good at this! As I said, we’re not going anywhere, so don’t fret!

The Future: Pair Programming With AI 

What does the near future hold for the noble programmer in the world of AI?

Great question, and in my opinion, the future involves a close relationship with AI in the form of pair programming.

Yep, we’re going to be teammates and buddies with AI!

Now, the concept of pair programming is not a new one.

If this is new to you, it’s just when two programmers work together at one workstation.

But, with the advent of AI coding assistants, it seems pretty clear to me that the future will be a melding of human creativity with AI's computational power.

Simply put, AI will not just be a tool but a partner.

And what a partner it can be! With vast data-processing capabilities, AI can instantaneously sift through enormous codebases, recall relevant functions, and suggest optimal coding practices.

This can be a huge gain for us as programmers, as it will alleviate some of the cognitive load that we’re used to bearing.

Which, in turn, means we can focus on the strategic and creative aspects of coding. Or, more simply, the fun stuff!

This reality is closer than you think, with a growing number of people experimenting with popular AI coding assistants like GitHub Copilot and Amazon CodeWhisperer.

If you haven’t played with these tools yet, you might be amazed by the instant feedback, flagging of potential errors, and code refinements.

Think of the AI like a human pair programmer but with the added advantage of a comprehensive, data-driven perspective. 

AI's involvement in pair programming will also be a huge leap forward in the way that people learn and enhance their programming skills. 

In particular, novice programmers will benefit immensely from tailored guidance and a personalized learning experience that can accelerate their skill development.

It all sounds great, right?

Well, yes, it is, but I also think it’s important to point something out.

The big risk in using these AI tools is the slippery slope of over-reliance. Yes, they are really useful and can be great for boosting our efficiency.

But it’s also essential to keep working on your own critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Remember, we’re in a team with AI when doing pair programming.

And who wants to be in a team when one person is doing all of the work?!

But, if you can navigate this partnership thoughtfully, I really think it has the potential to revolutionize the way we code and learn in an AI-driven world.

Why Won’t AI Replace Programmers?

So, why won’t AI models just outright replace us as programmers? Great question.

If you’re a fan of the frankly hilarious show Silicon Valley, your first thought might be The Terminator! 

Okay, I’m clearly being a little silly here, but all the same, there are lots of reasons why AI won’t replace programmers.

Let’s take a look at them now.

The Need For Creative Thinking

AI excels in tasks involving data processing and pattern recognition, but it lacks the innate human ability for creative thinking and complex problem-solving. 

In fact, programming often requires creativity and innovation to tackle unique challenges, which is something that AI cannot replicate due to the bounds of its training and algorithms.

That said, we, as human programmers, can bring a level of creativity and intuition to the development process that is crucial for groundbreaking software solutions.

AI Cannot Understand Development Principles Or Concepts

Again, while AI can assist in coding, it does not possess a deep understanding of software development principles or concepts that are essential for creating effective programs. 

But, again, we, as human programmers, do possess the ability to comprehend abstract concepts, understand context, and apply theoretical knowledge in practical scenarios. 

This is critical in making strategic decisions during the software development lifecycle.

The Need For Adaptability & Continuous Learning

It’s no understatement to say that the tech industry is ever-evolving.

And the only way to stay relevant is to stay abreast of new languages, frameworks, and methodologies. 

Well, we humans can learn and adapt to these changes by continuously updating our skills. 

AI, on the other hand, can only use the data it’s been trained on for programming. 

This means it lacks the ability to independently adapt to new technological advancements without human intervention.

Empathy & User-Centric Focus

Programming is not just about writing code; it's about solving problems in ways that are beneficial to users. 

We human programmers can empathize with users, understand their needs, and tailor software solutions accordingly. 

This user-centric approach is something that AI cannot fully replicate, as it requires an understanding of human emotions, cultures, and behaviors.

AI Requires Oversight

This is an obvious point, but AI systems themselves require maintenance and oversight.

These are tasks that can only be performed by skilled human programmers. 

Whether that’s updating algorithms or ensuring the ethical use of AI, human oversight is essential for managing and directing AI systems effectively. 

This is also a bit of a hot topic because we humans can also introduce our own biases in AI, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day!

How Will AI Impact Programming Jobs?

Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned programmer, you’re probably wondering, am I going to be replaced by AI?

Good news, no, you’re not! Trust me, don’t believe the hype!

I know it seems like ChatGPT from OpenAI and other large language models can do everything, but believe me, there’s much more to it than you think.

To start with, these forms of AI are not really AI in the truest sense. If you’ve ever watched any Sci-Fi movie involving AI, you need to know that we’re nowhere near there right now.

This type of AI is more precisely known as AGI, or artificial general intelligence. 

And sure, there are lots of hugely smart people taking AI courses or studying PhDs to work on this, but it’s a way off from being here.

That said, AI LLMs are incredibly good at what they do, and it’s almost spooky how well they handle natural language processing.

But rather than worrying about them displacing us, we need to learn how to leverage them.

Yep, the secret to staying competitive and necessary is not to look at AI as an adversary, but rather you need to focus on strategies that allow you to use AI for your own gains.

I remember when I was starting out in coding and programming, and I remember hearing about unicorns, 10x developers, and full-stack geniuses.

Well, guess what? With the help of AI, this could be you!

In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that this might be the best time ever to become a programmer as it opens up so many new opportunities.

You still need to put in the hard work, but if you can learn to synthesize AI tools with your own creativity and intelligence, the programming world is your oyster!

Huge disclaimer! The key to this strategy is to use AI to help you learn and level up more quickly, not to lean on it so heavily that you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Take a look back at the limitations of AI if you’re not sure why this is a bad idea.

It’s also important to know that with the growing need for AI tools in so many industries and sectors, there’s been a huge growth in the need for developers who can work with AI.

Whether this is using APIs to create AI tools or the nascent and flourishing field of prompt engineering, the demand is there; you just need to look for it.

So again, rather than worry about fewer jobs, you need to think about how you position yourself to ride the AI wave rather than worrying about the waves crashing on your head!

I know it can be scary to make big changes, especially if you’ve been coding for a long time and you like what you do.

But this is the tech world, and nothing is ever stationary for long. So, my advice is to get excited and make the effort to evolve your programming skills to work with AI.

You can even use AI to help you learn about AI, which is kind of weird but also very cool.

The main takeaway here is that you should not be worried about AI replacing you if you’re willing to learn how to use it to make yourself a more valuable programmer.

Wrapping Up: Will AI Replace Programmers

So there you have it! We’ve now explored the question of whether or not AI will replace programmers.

Now, it’s only my opinion, and you may disagree with me, but I don’t think AI will replace programmers if we’re all ready to level up our skills.

I think the critical point to take away is that we all need to leverage AI to make us better programmers rather than compete with it.

So, rather than looking at AI as a threat, let’s advocate for learning how to use it effectively as we all aim to become better and more productive programmers.

Of course, no one knows what the future holds, but in tech, you always need to keep learning and be ready to evolve.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, and as always, happy coding!

Are you new to the world of AI and eager to learn more? Check out:

Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Professional Program

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will AI Ever Replace Programmers?

Currently, I don’t think AI will replace programmers, but rather it will augment their capabilities, particularly in routine tasks. On the other hand, humans are essential for the creative and ethical aspects of programming.

2. Is ChatGPT Replacing Programmers?

No, ChatGPT is not replacing programmers. It can, however, serve as a tool to assist in various coding tasks, but it cannot replicate the complex problem-solving and creative skills of human programmers.

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By Robert Johns

Technical Editor for Hackr.io | 15+ Years in Python, Java, SQL, C++, C#, JavaScript, Ruby, PHP, .NET, MATLAB, HTML & CSS, and more... 10+ Years in Networking, Cloud, APIs, Linux | 5+ Years in Data Science | 2x PhDs in Structural & Blast Engineering

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