There was a time when software development was done manually. Software people were expert in computer programming and mastered highly complex languages. The idea behind it was to design and deliver executable programs or algorithms for accomplishing specific tasks, thus solving specific problems.

This method proved to be successful to write software for a variety of machines, from mainframes to smartphones until brilliant computer scientists acknowledged computers could use their own resources for self-programming. Inspired by the same structure of the human brain, machines can be instructed through deep learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques to develop the programs they need to fulfil their duties – think of anthropomorphic robots, customer care bots, self-driving cars.

This represents a revolution in how we conceive software development. Let’s summarise this remarkable change with the famous joke by Google AI specialist Pete Warden: “I used to be a coder. Now I teach computers to write their own programs”. AI does not make software developers or professional coders unnecessary, but it requires them to shift their effort from writing rules to creating the best environment for machines to decide how they want to solve the tasks they are charged with. In other words, developers need to define the context and datasets to sketch out the desired behaviour, steer the training process, and let the machine do the rest.

According to some industry leaders, AI will accelerate the convergence between computer programming and data science, as the two disciplines tackle different parts of the same workflow, and could both benefit from a structured, close collaboration.

We are often asked if the AI hype and related technologies will impact on jobs, jeopardising opportunities for coders and software people. Actually, we shouldn’t be worried about such backlash, but take it as a golden ticket to grow software development competences as valuable resources for our own companies. We’ll probably need more AI practitioners soon, taking the most out of this technology.

To say it once again with Warden’s words, “The future may well belong to humble humans who work well with intelligent machines”.

Author: Sabis Chu

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