How did we reach this point and how do we cope?
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ChatGPT requires no introduction at this point. The chat model has taken the world by storm and it seems to be able to do everything from writing enchanting poetry to writing usable code. Based on a generative model, the chatbot uses statistical and probabilistic methods to generate text given an input prompt.
The arrival of the bot was completely unprecendented with no-one having predicted its onslaught. Google itself was caught offguard and had to scramble to release a version of its own rather primitive & underperforming chatbot - Google Bard. The release has been disappointing with Sundar Pichai promising updates soon.
Nevertheless, it doesn't take long to go from a feeling of being completely awe-struck by the power of the technology to being worried about the future that lies ahead. You can probably not tell if this introduction was written by chatGPT and that is a scary thought.
You can probably not tell if this introduction was written by chatGPT and that is a scary thought.
It is also no secret that generative AI is set to disrupt industries and take away jobs. The financial times estimates over 300mn jobs will be affected by generative AI.
But where does this leave us coders, programmers and tech workers?
Is the end near, and if so how do we best survive it?
We had it coming - A short history on automation in Computer Science
Throughout the history of Computer Science we have always seen technology improve. The first computer programs were indeed written in machine code. This was a binary or hexadecimal representation and read directly by the CPU. Needless to say it is the least user-friendly form of computer language and impossible to understand from a cursory look.
From there, the assembly language was developed which made it slightly easier to develop programs (but would still look like garbage to any modern day programmer) and from there, languages such as Fortran, Cobol and others. Finally, with C we got our first high level language effectively making it easier for everyone to read and write code. The point is that Computer Science has always been in a phase of perpetual automation. It is naïve to think this would stop.
The point is that Computer Science has always been in a phase of perpetual automation. It is naïve to think this would stop.
There has always been a drive to make things easier and more accessible. Therefore, it is only natural to see the development of AI.
In fact the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not new. It was first conceived in the 1940s and 1950s by a number of scientists from various disciplines (mathematics, psychology, engineering). This is what the early pioneers of AI had to say about their work :
- 1958, H. A. Simon and Allen Newell: "within ten years a digital computer will be the world's chess champion" and "within ten years a digital computer will discover and prove an important new mathematical theorem."
- 1965, H. A. Simon: "machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work a man can do.
The optimism is surprising isn't it? The early scientists were perhaps a bit too optimistic for things did not pan out nearly as well and as quickly as they had hoped. AI has survived two winters (1974–1980 and 1987–1993) seeing slow growth and decrease in investments. There were various reasons for this, lack of computing power being one of them.
The image below shows the timeline:
The first decades of the 21st century saw the rise in computing power and access to large amounts of data. This made it possible to develop deep neural networks which are the backbone for much of the recent success in the field of AI.
In short we had it coming.
In short we had it coming.
How to Cope?
I've gathered a list of thoughts that can help us cope.
Opinions expressed are entirely my own. This is not career advice.
Never settle and be explorative
Keep learning. The moment you think you are done learning you risk being outdated. Be explorative. Learn about other industries different from your own. Mingle with people who work in industries different from yours. It offers new perspectives on things. Anothing thing that offers new perspectives is reading. Develop the habit of reading. It helps you form opinions and 2x the speed of your learning.
Build mental resilience by developing a Growth mindset
Do you believe that you are born with fixed abilities and skills? If so, let go of that thought. Develop a growth mindset. Believe that you can acheive anything no matter the scale or difficulty. I know it sounds cliché but its terribly important. With a growth mindset, you can be sure that you will always be at the curve if not ahead of it. You'll be equipped with the mental resilience to accept mind-bending technologies like ChatGPT.
Be a quick learner
Learn how to learn. The tech landscape changes incredibly quickly. Being able to quickly understand and learn new technologies will set you apart from the pack. Make learning fun. Figure out what works for you and take it from there. Whether it be video courses on online platforms, books or written tutorials. If you are able to teach yourself new things you'll always be prepared for the future. Think AI. What if you could in a span of a few weeks or months learn and develop chatbots on your own?
Understand AI and leverage it
Let go of your ego and start using AI. If you don't, you run the risk of others becoming more productive than you. Taking ChatGPT as an example remember that everyone has access to it. If you refuse to use it, while others do, they'll immediately become more productive than you. There'll be a higher chance of you getting replaced by your peers rather than by AI in this case.
Given the importance of AI, I believe everyone regardless of their background needs to develop a basic understanding of it. Understanding roughly how it works will help you predict the future development, the risks and pitfalls of the technology. Ignore it, and you'll be caught offguard when the next big thing drops.
Be good at what you do
Strive for excellence. You won't be replaced if you strive to be 1% better at what you do everyday. If you still can't achieve what you want atleast you'll learn dedication and persistence - the two most important things to show people that you care and are serious about your craft.
Realise what it means to be a computer programmer
Your job isn't to write code but to solve problems (we are engineers after all 🙂).
Your job isn't to write code but to solve problems.
ChatGPT can write code but what it can't do is hold meetings with stakeholders, understand business context and the needs of the customer. It can't handle the complexities of the technological landscape in large corporate landscapes. This is where you come in.
Personally, I don't fear the arrival of AI per-se. But what I am concerned with is our perceptions of our jobs becoming bleaker. It's important to think what you are doing is useful and helping society. If AI does your job better than you it's natural to feel useless. However, it is important to keep these thoughts and feelings in check and combat them. This can be done by pivoting to a different role that gives you more fulfillment. Or by telling yourself that you are more than just a programmer (previous point). Or by taking part in online and offline meetups with like-minded groups. Again, this is highly individual and will differ from person to person so figure out what keeps you motivated and in high-spirits. Be adaptable.
Closing thoughts - A positive outlook
There is no doubt that there has been a massive push towards automation not only in the field of Computer Science but in engineering in general (automobiles, industrial revolution etc.). One key takeaway is that automation takes care of boring and tedious tasks.
Automation takes care of tedious, boring tasks leaving the exciting stuff for us to do.
This leaves the more exciting tasks left for us to do. Think about it. Is it really that bad to allow ChatGPT to write a nested for loop or write boilerplate code for a frontend app or finish off that bash script?
We have reached the end. I want to leave you with one closing thought. And that is the one thing AI can never achieve. The prime distinction between man and AI and what it means to be human. The power of human connection. It is of vital importance that we develop our social skills aka. soft skills. Hard skills (coding) can be learnt by AI but soft skills (communication, facial expressions, body language) cannot. I predict that soft skills will be extremely beneficial in the future and will be the key distinguishing factor when making new hires.
So smile, stretch those legs and remember, man created AI not the other way around.