When someone brings up artificial intelligence, often what comes to mind are uncanny valley robots who are secretly plotting to overthrow their human overlords. The reality isn’t quite as glamorous and at least for the foreseeable future, will never be like that. While artificial intelligence has come a long way since the 1950’s, we won’t ever reach a point in time where developers are obsolete, no matter how advanced AI gets.
A developer’s job is not just composed of writing code; they have to consider everything from integration to scalability to customer wants. I’d argue that the code writing portion is only 15% of a developer’s job. While we won’t ever reach a point where AI can do the remaining 85% of what a developer does, we are fast approaching (and maybe even at) a point in time where AI offers an incredible amount of value to that 15% and it may seem silly (or even impossible) to go back to a time where we coded without it.
What does offering value to developers mean?
Offering value to developers means that a developer’s workflow is improved. This can take many forms but in the context of AI, some examples include code auto-completion (such as Tabnine or Github Copilot) or even code generation from natural language, such as OpenAI’s Codex. Regardless of what form this value-offering AI takes, the common thread among the products that offer the most value is that they are disruptors.
Disrupting the tech industry
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures. Khosla has been involved in the tech industry since 1980 and he is no stranger to disruptors. His VC firm, Khosla Ventures, has invested in some of the most successful companies in every industry, ranging from DoorDash to OpenAI.
I actually got the term “disruptor” from my talk with Khosla. I asked him if he had a core thesis that he followed when choosing which companies to invest in and he said:
“I work on the things that are hugely disruptive… I don’t mind a higher probability of failure as long as the consequences of success are consequential.”
For Khosla, this has always come back to tech and recently, has been focused in the area of AI. I asked Khosla how he has seen AI driving change (and disruptions) in the tech industry and this is what he told me
“The power of technology has now enabled it to enter all parts of society not just the tech parts of society… technology was a tool for technology spaces and now it’s a tool for everything.”
It’s an accurate statement: you’d be hard pressed to find a company that isn’t trying to leverage technology to better their product and improve their customer’s lives. The entry of technology into all spaces has subsequently meant the entry of AI into all spaces and already, AI has shown uncapped potential to improve the developer’s workflow.
One of Khosla’s investments is OpenAI, which I’ve mentioned several times. They started as a natural language processing focused company whose goal was to generate human-like text. (Think early chatbots like Cleverbot but with magnitudes more training data and expansive neural networks.) They’ve made huge progress in the area of NLP with GPT-3 which has been widely applauded as one of the best natural language text predictors there is. More recently, they unveiled Codex, which leverages the power of GPT-3 to produce code from natural language.
Codex’s functions do not just stop at generating code from comments: it can also generate comments from code, debug, translate between coding languages, and a myriad of other functions. It makes the 15% of a developer’s time that is spent coding much easier and enjoyable. DevRev, like Khosla, recognizes this and have teamed up with OpenAI to host a hackathon.
Hacking our way to a better future
DevRev’s Coding With AI Hackathon has one goal: usher in a new era of coding with AI through the form of a VSCode extension. Participants of the hackathon will gain access to OpenAI’s Codex to power their VSCode extension. You can see a demo of my extension here, which is followed by my chat with Khosla.
You can also get my extension code here, which I plan to continuously improve and debug.
While my extension only has two functions, code generation from comments and comment generation from code, the list of features your extension can have is only limited by your imagination; I encourage you to solve the problems that bug you the most as a developer and, in the process, get a chance at winning $10,000! While I understand that the thought of AI can sometimes be scary, as someone who works in the field, I also understand that AI comes with enough limitations to prevent it from ever overthrowing me (or any other developer). I implore you all to learn more about AI and even participate in our hackathon to get some hands-on experience with AI. Feel free to also join our Discord server and ask questions there.