• September 19, 2021

Exclusive: Can a Code-Writing AI Be Good News For Humans?

 Exclusive: Can a Code-Writing AI Be Good News For Humans?

“A.I. Can Now Write Its Own Computer Code,” blares a headline in the New York Times, adding “That’s Good News for Humans. (Alternate URL here.)

The article begins with this remarkable story about Codex (the OpenAI software underlying GitHub Copilot):

As soon as Tom Smith got his hands on Codex — a new artificial intelligence technology that writes its own computer programs — he gave it a job interview. He asked if it could tackle the “coding challenges” that programmers often face when interviewing for big-money jobs at Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook. Could it write a program that replaces all the spaces in a sentence with dashes? Even better, could it write one that identifies invalid ZIP codes? It did both instantly, before completing several other tasks.

“These are problems that would be tough for a lot of humans to solve, myself included, and it would type out the response in two seconds,” said Mr. Smith, a seasoned programmer who oversees an A.I. start-up called Gado Images. “It was spooky to watch.” Codex seemed like a technology that would soon replace human workers. As Mr. Smith continued testing the system, he realized that its skills extended well beyond a knack for answering canned interview questions. It could even translate from one programming language to another.

Yet after several weeks working with this new technology, Mr. Smith believes it poses no threat to professional coders. In fact, like many other experts, he sees it as a tool that will end up boosting human productivity. It may even help a whole new generation of people learn the art of computers, by showing them how to write simple pieces of code, almost like a personal tutor.

“This is a tool that can make a coder’s life a lot easier,” Mr. Smith said.
The article ultimately concludes that Codex “extends what a machine can do, but it is another indication that the technology works best with humans at the controls.”

And Greg Brockman, chief technology officer of OpenAI, even tells the Times “AI is not playing out like anyone expected. It felt like it was going to do this job and that job, and everyone was trying to figure out which one would go first. Instead, it is replacing no jobs. But it is taking away the drudge work from all of them at once.”

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