• Chirag Patel

Can Coders and CEOs Lose Their Job to AI?

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

According to one Oxford study, 47% of all jobs in the USA is likely to be automated by 2030. If AI can generate music, create art, and play chess, what stops it from writing code as well? In fact, it’s already doing that.

Bayou is an AI application that uses deep learning to generate code by itself. It has been trained on open source Java code from Github. In a similar to Google search way, Bayou uses a few keywords to predict what program a software developer is writing and suggests the specific steps needed to complete it. The project is funded by Google and DARPA.

DeepCoder is another project in this area. Developed by Microsoft and Cambridge University researches, this AI app searches through a large code database to help programmers solve simple coding problems. For now, though, it can only build programs that consist of a few lines of code. These and many more examples beg the question - could programmers lose their jobs?

Not really but

AI apps like Bayou and DeepCoder automate some tedious parts of coding. They can produce a few lines of code but they can’t yet write programs on their own, nor can they interpret business value and prioritize features. Airbnb has recently introduced Sketch2Code - a new tool that lets you convert your hand-drawn design into an HTML code with the help of AI. But even this product of neural networks doesn’t generate any code on its own. It’s simply picking the right components created by humans. Converting design mockups into HTML and CSS code seems to be the easiest task in programming soon-to-be-replaced with AI.

Programming is about converting vague requirements into objectified specifications and this is hard enough for humans, let alone industrial AI that is known to us today. Achieving a state where machine can process complex business requirements, prioritize and measure them along relevant business metrics and translate them into executable set of computer instructions with an element of creativity and efficacy is a phenomenon that could possibly falls within the type of AI called AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), and it’s not something humans can build yet.

How about at the C-level?

Today’s intelligent systems can be trained to recognize faces in pictures, make personalized product recommendations, predict mistakes in code. But they can’t think like the human brain. Nor can they write their own algorithms that solve problems just like human programmers do. But when it come to executive and C-level decisioning, maybe!

On March 2nd, 2018, United Airlines quickly shelved plans to replace quarterly employee bonuses with a $100,000 lottery prize, after a stinging backlash from its workforce. The lottery, which the airline announced, would have paid $100,000 to one lucky employee selected at random, and smaller bonuses of $2,000 or $5,000 to about 1,300 more. Other employees would have gotten prizes including 50 vacation packages or 10 Mercedes. I wasn't the only one who thought this was an early April Fool's joke. Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, thought this was very amateurish.

Staying in context, we can all agree that a simple Excel model could have done a better job of building a fair bonus structure, let alone the need to build a program. AI, for sure could have made this task easier, keeping fairness and integrity in mind. Matthew Griffin of 311 Institute argues that CEOs already are robots citing examples of companies like Aiydia and Bridgewater Associates who are automating their entire management team.

But even here, if we were to consider AGI, not all C-level jobs could be replaced. Let’s think about Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. It is difficult to imagine an AI that could motivate or inspire. I’m not just talking about company employees here - Steve Jobs especially created a “reality distortion field” that drove buyers. Elon Musk arguably has a similar skill.

Looking forward

If you consider functional C-level roles primarily driven by KPIs from HR, Finance, Sales, Markets and Investors, then I would argue it's easier to replace a CEO with AGI. And even if AI does make a programmer’s job obsolete, there’s no need to worry. Technology has been taking the jobs of people throughout its history. And 10 years from now, there will be loads of new jobs we can’t even imagine.

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