Farhad Manjoo: “It’s the End of Computer Programming as We Know It.” 

The End of Programming | January 2023 | Communications of the ACM

Credit: Ursa Major

Dear Commons Community,

Farhad Manjoo, has a column in today’s New York Times entitled, “It’s the End of Computer Programming as We Know It.” 

He comments that with the rise of artificial intelligence programs that can write code, the days of computer programming might be over.  Here is an excerept:

“Wasn’t it odd that the machines needed us humans to learn their maddeningly precise secret languages to get the most out of them? If they’re so smart, shouldn’t they try to understand what we’re saying, rather than us learning how to talk to them?

Now that may finally be happening. In a kind of poetic irony, software engineering is looking like one of the fields that could be most thoroughly altered by the rise of artificial intelligence. Over the next few years, A.I. could transform computer programming from a rarefied, highly compensated occupation into a widely accessible skill that people can easily pick up and use as part of their jobs across a wide variety of fields. This won’t necessarily be terrible for computer programmers — the world will still need people with advanced coding skills — but it will be great for the rest of us. Computers that we can all “program,” computers that don’t require specialized training to adjust and improve their functionality and that don’t speak in code: That future is rapidly becoming the present.

A.I. tools based on large language models — like OpenAI Codex, from the company that brought you ChatGPT, or AlphaCode, from Google’s DeepMind division — have already begun to change the way many professional coders do their jobs. At the moment, these tools work mainly as assistants — they can find bugs, write explanations for snippets of poorly documented code and offer suggestions for code to perform routine tasks (not unlike how Gmail offers ideas for email replies — “Sounds good”; “Got it”).

But A.I. coders are quickly getting smart enough to rival human coders. Last year, DeepMind reported in the journal Science that when AlphaCode’s programs were evaluated against answers submitted by human participants in coding competitions, its performance “approximately corresponds to a novice programmer with a few months to a year of training.”

“Programming will be obsolete,” Matt Welsh, a former engineer at Google and Apple, predicted recently. Welsh now runs an A.I. start-up, but his prediction, while perhaps self-serving, doesn’t sound implausible!

I started computer programming in the late 1960s, I tend to agree with Welsh and Manjoo!


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