Will Coders be Disrupted by Generative A.I.
One of the Biggest Questions of the 2020s in Tech jobs.
Coders who are being laid off in 2023 have questions, that nobody on Blind has answers to.
The topic is nearly non-existent on LinkedIn as well.
The tech pundits have a different spin on the story.
I myself worry for the future of some professions and the idea that Silicon Valley was a land of opportunity could be fading.
This is especially due to the relative future of software engineers in such a macro and innovation climate. Whether this is just a temporary trend or the start of something bigger is worthy of our attention.
You say "democratizing", I saw "disruption", but are we really talking about the same thing? Time will tell. If I was a software engineer, I'd be researching this to the best of my ability.
The future of software developers, DevOps, Cloud engineers, data engineers and related tech workers may get squeezed by A.I. in the years to come. To them, it won't feel like the "democratization of technology".
No Human Coders in 5 Years?
— Peter H. Diamandis, MD (@PeterDiamandis)
Apr 30, 2023
Will A.I. substantially disrupt tech workers in the next 15 years, specifically coders?
So let’s get into our topic.
It's getting to the point where we must significantly consider the possibility of the relationship with A.I. and future software developers and softwarwe engineers including data scientists and data engineers.
Software engineers have overwhelmingly faced layoffs this year, per data from Revelio Labs. Think about it, Coders made up 14% of employees at tech companies, but represented 20% of layoffs in 2023. The trend of layoffs suggest Github Copilot like tools won't just make software engineering more productive, they could skew future demand.
Noted Futurist Peter H. Diamandis recently wrote about this trend. I had already been thinking about this due to analysis of Technology layoffs so far in 2023. I’m not a software engineer, but I can tell you the sudden arrival of ChatGPT, GitHub Copilot, Tabnine, Ghostwriter by Replit and others are changing things substantially.
Coding jobs have long been equated with job security in the tech industry. But for those who chose to "learn to code," Vox reported the wave of layoffs in 2023 is challenging that notion.
While we've already attempted to understand the disruption of A.I. on jobs and the future of the labor force, significant revisions need to be made in the era of Generative A.I. We don't know how fast emergent properties might appear in this area.
While a 2013 University of Oxford study found that 47% of US jobs could be eliminated by AI over the next 20 years, that prediction appears to have been off-base. A recent Goldman Sachs study found that generative AI tools could, in fact, impact 300 million full-time jobs worldwide, which could lead to a "significant disruption" in the job market.
For young workers living in developing countries, learning how to code was often a way forward in their careers and increased the probability that they could travel abroad to earn a better life. But in this climate, that entire future is in considerable doubt as ChatGPT and other tools will only get better at coding and how GPT Agents learn to progressively could better could impact the industry.
We have been trained to think of A.I. in terms of empowerment in an AI-human hybrid workforce, but what if the reality becomes something different?
Peter Diamandis appears serious when he asks the question:
Will AI eliminate the need for human programmers in the next five years, or will it turn all of us into coders?
There’s strong evidence that AI will surpass the ability of human coders:
1. OpenAI’s ChatGPT can now pass Google’s exam for high-level software developers.
2. GitHub reported that 46% of code across all programming languages is built using Copilot, the company’s AI-powered developer tool.
3. DeepMind's AlphaCode AI has outperformed human programmers. When pitted against over 5,000 human participants, the AI outperformed 45% of expert programmers.
What do you think? Answer in a comment below.
And how fast will GitHub Copilot and Google's PaLM tool get better exactly in the coming years and decades? With GitHub Copilot and Google’s PaLM tool and many other autocomplete like A.I. assistants, they say the jobs and roles of coders won’t be disrupted, but can we trust ChatGPT for the future of coding? Is this "Copilot" vision of the future even accurate?
Silicon Valley and Venture Capitalists would always have you spin the narrative in their favor. So instead of saying this will disrupt coders, they say "AI will democratize coding". They emphasize that rather than eliminate coders, the emergence of this AI tech is more likely to turn any and all of us into coders.
While that's convenient for the companies they are invested in, what about the demand for the 25 million + software developers and students learning how to code? It really makes you wonder about who controls the narrative and what are the consequences for what the likes of Microsoft and Google are unleashing. While cost savings and productivity are great, what happens when serious automation at scale will occur in an exponential way perhaps even in our lifetimes?
So instead of talk seriously about the future of work from the point of view of the worker, they encapsulate the trend into a flowery vision of the future as if we are on the cusp of a Utopia.
Venture Capital Bias is Extreme
Microsoft’s stock is up 7% and Meta’s stock is up 13% respectively in recent Earnings mostly due to the extent that they are going after Generative A.I. Generative A.I. will be used to accelerate advertising, game development and reshape how coding is done at scale - this means Amazon, Apple, ByteDance and the Chinese State among others need to keep up with the Google, Microsoft and Metas' of the world.
Not to mention all the companies racing to be early adopters of Generative A.I. to fuel growth of their own products.
While Silicon Valley elites praise A.I. as some Utopia creator, it's not clear in what world they are living. I myself have had various kinds of pressure to "be more positive" in how I write about the future. This includes being throttled on LinkedIn, by editors and a system that rewards positivity and hype and downgrades realism and pessimism.
If Technology has always allowed individuals to do more, faster. The knowledge workers will be surprised to find that in a faster world of A.I.'s growing roles in their lives, some of them and their tasks will no longer be required. This is already happening in 2023 and you can find stories of it happening maybe even in your industry. But are the Peter Diamandis or Reid Hoffman's of the world really asking the tough questions? What incentives does an Eric Schmidt who is heavily into Venture Capital as well, have to say that Google could contribute to the disruption of coders? He's much rather paint China as a formidable enemy.
Matt Welsh, a former professor of Computer Science and Google engineer believes that programming jobs, as we know them today, will cease to exist in three years. While that is a bit dramatic, I think all of the perspectives deserve attention, but the layoff numbers in 2023 suggest that we aren't just entering a "copilot world" but the beginning of an automation phase.
We have to be honest about what is most likely to occur. Coders should be worried, it is after all their livelihood at stake. Low and no-code solutions at scale aren't great for the prospects of software developers. Welsh thinks programming is on the cusp of changing from a job that humans do, to one that robots will do, thanks to technologies like ChatGPT and Copilot. In his view, programmers will need to evolve into “teachers” of AI programs — or perhaps product managers or code reviewers, the two human roles he thinks are relatively safe from the robots.
So what are the numbers actually saying so far in 2023? Of the estimated 170,000 layoffs across the tech industry this year, software engineers represented nearly 20% of cuts, despite making up 14% of employees, per data from Revelio Labs. That's a lot of people.
What if the Speed of AI Sneaks up on Us?
We need to seriously track this future of work trend, and not gloss it over for the elites. In BigTech, Meta and Amazon have been especially aggressive with layoffs, I’d argue from what we can tell Apple and Microsoft since they are much more diversified have had to be far less aggressive in this respect. But even lower starting salaries are coming into being in Silicon Valley's crippling 'year of efficiency'.
I believe A.I. developing above human capabilities in coding is one of the “emergent properties” of LLMs and Generative A.I. to watch in the 2020s and 2030s that would radically change the planet and the future of innovation immediately when it occurs. This is both exciting and a little scary for technology workers because it signals that A.I. might finally be having a greater impact on their future, career earnings and employability.
To suggest otherwise or ignore this fact is simply a form of misinformation. That does not mean we cannot be impressed with the "Utopia" that this all creates for the majority of people. But there's a piece of dystopia for someone out there when such radical change is coming. Not to mention it would be intellectually dishonest and not be of the facts and the truth.
Not to cover both sides would just be fueling the hype that benefits financially a very small minority. I'm guess Microsoft employees or Peter Diamandis don't have big financial worries. There's clearly a whole lot of misalignment when it comes to the commercialization of A.I.
Who Could be in the Disruption Zone?
Developers, DevOps engineers, platform engineers, data engineers and others are forced to aggressively adopt A.I. tools. But there will come a point when it makes some of them expendable. When you get into bed with the hype, what if the tech makes yet another leap in abilities? How long before it can oversee what a human might have done last year or the year before?
The coding capabilities of GPT-4 were already evident, if not obvious, from its predecessor, GPT-3.5 on which ChatGPT was based. ChatGPT could create snippets of code in a fraction of the time it would take for a human programmer to write the same code. And it could also debug and correct its own code given hints and suggestions; it could debug even human-generated codes. What will GPT-5 be able to do? Or how about the next generation of Claude Next? Or LLMs dedicated to coding Big Data itself?
What lessons will A.I. hype have for automation and the gradual and or sudden disruption of white collar and knowledge workers in the next three decades? By embracing the ChatGPTs of the world, for some of us, we are facilitating our own disruption. How much sense does that make?
On November 30 2022, OpenAI launched the AI chatbot ChatGTP, making the latest generation of AI technologies widely available. Will AI rescue global productivity from its long slump? And if so, who will reap the gains? Perhaps the single greatest source of caution is the huge uncertainty around the future trajectory of AI technology and its impact on job security and what percentage of the tasks it can do of our own jobs.
Although economists have different opinions on the impact of AI, there is general agreement among economic studies that AI will increase inequality. American Capitalism is already riddled with wealth inequality and systemic biases and inequalities before this new wave. So what will be the actual result?
Clearly AI-induced productivity growth would cause employment redistribution and trade restructuring, which would tend to further increase inequality both within countries and between them. But there aren't many economists who are honest about what this will actually look like.
Like many revolutionary technologies before it, AI is likely to eliminate jobs and to sugar-coat is as I too often see from Silicon Valley's elites is not just deceptive, it's predatory. The future of work concerns us all. The benefits to the elites don't always outweigh the impact to the masses. Monopoly Capitalism is very unbalanced in 2023. When just a few companies and Venture Capitalists benefit from enormous disruptive trends, hopefully someone out there is asking the right questions.
What kind of a Machine Economy are we entering if ChatGPT, GitHub Copilot, Google PaLM, Tabnine and Replit’s Ghostwriter keep getting better at astounding rates at code?
Thanks for reading! I will continue to write articles about the impact of A.I. on the future of work.