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Robert Tamayo

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Thoughts on AI and Coding

AI has been dominating the memes this year. There are tons of "turn x into y" tools available to the public, and AI-generated text has a particular silliness to it that people find entertaining. I've played with text generators and even Magic: The Gathering card generators. The results are always entertaining.

But recently, people have been speculating that the effectiveness of these text generators could replace software engineers and programmers. Since I'm a software engineer myself, I figure it's worth it to consider this possibility.

What Does an AI Text Generator Do?


To consider whether AI could replace programmers, it's useful to understand what text generators do.

Text generators work by accepting a prompt, such as "give me 2 controllers, one for the network, and one for the file system", and turning that into useful code. More commonly, people use text generators for generating silly stories.

How Does AI Come Into Play?


The AI/ML aspect comes into play with how the text generator is able to create the text. In traditional programming, if I wanted to make a program that could respond to any user input, I would have to create potentially millions of if/else statements involving regex to process it. Using the previous prompt as an example, it would be something like "if (firstWord) == 'give' {} else if (firstWord) == 'take' {}..." and so on for literally every word in the English language. Then it would repeat for every word in the sentence, and then it would process the meaning of the sentence, and then it would give a response based on all the input.

AI/ML doesn't work that way. Instead, they are "trained" on millions of example text. An AI text generator used to write code would be trained on billions of lines of actual, functioning source code.

So What Does That Mean for Programmers?


Well, I've seen a ton of programmer memes in my time about how all programmers do is look up examples of actual, functioning source code on Stack Overflow. Sounds to me like programmers are AI. 

In All Seriousness


I was serious. But there's an important part missing. Where does the actual, functioning source code come from?

It comes from actual, real programmers.

There isn't an ability for AI (or programmers) to generate code without the existence of real, usable code.

My Advice to Aspiring Programmers


Whenever I'm asked about "learning to code" or something along those lines, my answer is always the same: forget about the code - what do you want to build?

Even in the case of AI text generators, there is a human behind it asking it to build something.

Focus on creativity and making something, not on the act of coding itself. If these AI tools ever become more than just memes, then they will be another tool in the arsenal of a creative person.

Also, it's good to just know how something works. Don't learn something for its supposed benefit to you. Just learn it to understand how it works - sometimes there are connections between other things you've learned that make it worthwhile, other times it's just fun.


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