Ep 21. AI Won't Replace Programmers

Large language models can write software, so you’re wondering, “will AI replace programmers”? The answer is no. In fact, AI will create demand for even more programmers. 

As someone who has been in the software development field for over four decades, I've witnessed numerous predictions about technology making programming jobs obsolete. These predictions have been consistently wrong for two reasons:

  1. They don’t understand what programmers actually do.
  2. They don’t appreciate the massive demand for more software.

Programming is not just about writing code. The essence of creating software lies in creativity, defining problems, breaking them down, troubleshooting, and effective communication. These are intricately human skills that AI is yet to replicate. Essentially, a programmer's most valuable asset isn't just coding; it's their ability to think and innovate.

Of course AI can now do some of this work, and it will dramatically drive down the cost of creating software. This is already happening. I can solve some problems with LLMs in 5 minutes that previously took a team of engineers 5 months.

Since AI makes each programmer vastly more productive, we will need fewer programmers, right? Well, no, because the falling cost of software will be more than offset by an increase in demand. A shortage of software is one of the world’s biggest problems. 

Consider a thought experiment: think about any job you've had and imagine if you had a team of five engineers dedicated to building software specifically for you. The possibilities would be endless - from organizing data to designing a coffee-fetching robot. The only reason you don't have this team today is the prohibitive cost, not because you don’t need their help. 

Looking to the future, it's conceivable that AI might eventually outperform programmers in all tasks. But considering that the core of programming is thinking, an AI capable of such feats would essentially be on the path to replacing all human labor. 

What happens if AI gets that smart? I don’t know, but I’m quite sure you won’t be pondering your career choices.

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