Will AI replace programmers?

As AI coding tools gain prominence, questions arise about their potential to replace programmers. Here, we discuss how AI is reshaping the responsibilities of programmers, and consider what this means for the future of the role.

3 min read
May 10, 2024
Jade Perry
Jade, Content Marketing Manager at Beyond, has a decade of experience creating content for agencies and brands.

As we inch closer to a world where AI capabilities can rival those of a human, there’s been rising concern about what this means for various roles, including those of programmers and developers.

The vast majority of developers — a staggering 92% according to GitHub — are already using an AI coding tool at work or in their personal time, showing the widespread adoption of this tech in the last few years. It’s clear that AI is already starting to transform day-to-day development work and helping with code generation, code optimisation, bug detection, and bug fixing. For example, 88% of programmers said they were more productive when using the popular AI coding tool GitHub Copilot. For new developers, AI tools help to accelerate learning, providing instant guidance and feedback to produce better code faster. As AI can also warn of security risks and predict issues based on past data, it offers an entirely new level of support to experienced developers, too. 

In turn, this is having a real impact on the way developers approach their work. 74% said GitHub Copilot enabled them to focus on more satisfying work, and 60% said they felt more fulfilled with their job. This highlights the tremendous impact of AI in this space — it is not only assisting developers, but reshaping how they view their work and their overall job satisfaction.

Yet, while AI has clearly become a useful tool, we do not foresee it replacing programmers in the near future — it's still far from being able to solve complex issues on its own, and human intervention is often required to refine code and ensure it aligns with project objectives. Even as AI coding tools get better at doing this, other key aspects of the role are hard for AI to replicate. 

Understanding user needs and developing software solutions that effectively address user challenges are a key part of a programmer's role. When it comes to understanding user needs — which includes determining what people really need, not just what they say they need — humans are a lot more effective at grasping subtleties and underlying intentions. What’s more, AI cannot think laterally or draw connections from different experiences to come up with novel solutions. AI operates within the confines of predefined algorithms and data sets. It can only generate solutions based on existing patterns, and struggles to generate truly creative and out-of-the-box ideas.

Given AI’s limitations in some of these key areas, programmers will still be required to carry the load on the more complex, nuanced aspects of programming that require bridging the human-computer divide or simply responding to market demand. 

As Alex Abbott, Director of Technology at Beyond, explains, “The demand for new software is at an all time high, and will continue to grow over time. While the time and effort required to build software will decrease as a result of AI innovations, the overall need for programmers who can lead the software creation process will increase significantly.”

AI may eventually take on the bulk of coding responsibilities, but as long as there is a need for software, there will be a need for programmers. We will still rely on programmers to steer the ship, to write the right prompts, to oversee AI, to look out for mistakes and hallucinations, and to lead development projects. Human oversight, creativity, and problem-solving will be essential and irreplaceable. AI, acting as a powerful asset, will simply help to propel innovation forward and push the boundaries of what programmers can achieve.

3 min read
May 10, 2024
Jade Perry
Jade, Content Marketing Manager at Beyond, has a decade of experience creating content for agencies and brands.