Those who’ve invested in virtual assistants like Alexa or Echo Dot will know that software has progressed to the point of being virtually all-pervading in our everyday lives.
We’ve created machines and algorithms that turn human actions, thoughts, and emotions into raw, tangible data. It is this data that software engineers can obtain, exploit and manipulate. However, instead of traditional programming, in which the programmer writes step-by-step instructions that tells the computer what to do, programmers are now starting to train computers to recognise situations in order to react like a human would. As this Artificial Intelligence continues to grow, questions should be raised about its future and what it means for programmers.
While it’s tough to predict the future of AI, the most pressing question is: are the jobs of the engineers under threat? As anticlimactic as it may be, the answer is entirely dependent on the time frame being examined. Could it be in the next decade? Probably not. Eventually? Absolutely.
The sticking point is largely around the fact that engineers never truly know how a computer is able to accomplish these tasks. Almost as if the neural operations of the AI system are a virtual black box. It’s therefore the programmers that become the AI teachers. They instruct cars to self-drive, computers to recognise faces in photographs and smartphones to detect handwriting among other things. The capabilities of AI through machine learning are endless, and here to stay. The reality is that attempts to apply artificial intelligence to programming tasks meant further developments in knowledge and automated reasoning. It’s therefore vital that programmers redefine their roles.
Software development jobs won’t become obsolete anytime soon but instead require more collaboration between humans and computers. There’ll be an increased need for engineers to create, test and research AI systems. The fact remains that AI and machine learning won’t be advanced enough to automate and govern everything for some time yet, so engineers will remain the technological skivvy in this scenario.
While it’s to be expected that a certain number of the software development community will become automated to some extent. This is always the case when elements of a role are repetitive and could be bundled together to improve workload, efficiency and increase revenue. However, lots of the software development industry isn’t going anywhere. This is purely down the fact that much of the AI industry is still at quite a premature phase.
When it comes down to it, the goal of AI for software engineers is to automate programming, a set up that allows the programmer to dictate their command. There are two types of function for artificial intelligence: specific and general. Artificial general intelligence is based on the principle that machines can be made to think. They have similar functions to the human brain; reason, logic, and understanding. When general artificial intelligence is mastered, software engineers will be redundant. Specific artificial intelligence refers to a machine’s ability to perform specific tasks extremely well, sometimes better than a human. Even though this version of AI is closer to reality, in many ways it is still in its emerging stages.
The release of Alexa software in 2015 is the clearest example of this to the push to
incorporate AI into home living. While the Echo Dot – which uses Alexa’s software – might be classified by some as ground-breaking AI innovation, it’s also got serious limitations. The Echo has, arguably, state-of-the-art voice recognition technology, the ability to play music on command, and convenience factors like the ability to reel off
items from your schedule that day. That being said, the Echo is at times more annoying than convenient. Follow-up commands for example are near impossible with Alexa, the majority of facts that could be Googled via a smartphone are not housed in Alexa, and she often misinterprets basic voice commands forcing the user to tweak their tone and pitch. While this is not so impactful in the home, for industries like healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, food production, customer service and finance, we‘ll need AI to support flexibility, performance, and security.
Increasingly we’ll need software engineers to maximise performance so machines can process loads of information, still reaching as many users as possible. However, when it comes to the creation of new, never-before-seen technology, security is always a concern. So software engineers will also be needed to create custom layers for backups, intrusion detection, prevention systems, and just simply the understanding of level of security humans need in their AI systems.
I don’t see software engineering jobs going away anytime soon. Rather the tech industry is rapidly expanding and will continue to do so. What I do expect that that the effects of automation and AI may sooner affect jobs in industries like sales operations, construction, maintenance, and food preparation. These sectors and others, could be the future of what’s next with AI.