Wednesday, November 15, 2023

end of coding, film at 11

The New Yorker had a piece by James Somers, A Coder Considers the Waning Days of the Craft about how GPT4 is empowering non-coders to solve coding problems. Many parts of my career path echo his.

He points out how once upon a time Squarespace and other tools empowered non-techies to make websites just by clicking around, and a set of medium-low-effort, sometimes high-paying work went away. There are some interesting challenges to bringing that same egalitarian nature to programming - many of them have to do with deployment and environmental context. There are some obvious risks to allowing half-baked code on your server! Some of those to the host can be mitigated by proper containerization but I wonder what ChatGPT would suggest for from scratch deployment for the non-programmer...

Somers mentions thow we seem to be cracking the long-pondered "natural language programming" problem - of which COBOL was one of the first attempts - citing Dijkstra circa 1978 and the imprecision of human languages.

But it feels like that equation changes somewhat with AI. As coder you're rarely solving unique challenges, you're solving problems very similar to what many people before you have, and LLMs are uniquely empowered to draw from that. They don't truly model the problem in their head, and so have all kinds of limitations, but they are able to get to "DWIMNWIS" ("Do What I Mean Not What I say") in a way previous systems have not.

Near the end of the piece Somers sounds a hopeful note for the programmer:

"Computing is not yet overcome. GPT-4 is impressive, but a layperson can't wield it the way a programmer can. I still feel secure in my profession. In fact, I feel somewhat more secure than before. As software gets easier to make, it'll proliferate; programmers will be tasked with its design, its configuration, and its maintenance. And though I've always found the fiddly parts of programming the most calming, and the most essential, I'm not especially good at them. I've failed many classic coding interview tests of the kind you find at Big Tech companies. The thing I'm relatively good at is knowing what's worth building, what users like, how to communicate both technically and humanely. A friend of mine has called this A.I. moment "the revenge of the so-so programmer." As coding per se begins to matter less, maybe softer skills will shine."

Here's hoping! For folks caught on the outside of the current boom-to-bust cycle, these sea changes are frightening. But right now, where I've had ChatGPT write me some simple one page apps, but also fall on its face on some similar problems, I'm optimistic I'll at least be able to ride out the rest of my career doing this kind of thing, with ChatGPT as an ally instead of a foe. But, my previous advice to young people: "uh, I dunno, maybe try programming? It always worked for me" seems more precarious than ever. 

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