Overcoming My 'AI Anxiety'

Ever since ChatGPT was unleashed on the unsuspecting world, an indeterminate threat of AI taking the jobs of software engineers has loomed in the background. Of course, this is not the first time; ‘no code’ concepts have been here for a while. While it has not come to fruition in any meaningful way, there are countless projects and companies that hope to develop an AI software engineer and end the profession in it’s entirety.

Given the economic value of developers labor, it is obvious why such a business pursuit is so desperate. Many capital owners would be overjoyed to finally start spending less on labour. Ignoring the human element; I can’t fault them for this. Progress marches on, and if that would occur, I wouldn’t be the first person in history that would have their career stripped from them due to the sands of time and technology.

Of course, that doesn’t make it any less frustrating and worrying. Over the last two years, I have on-and-off, felt the anxiety of my role being made obsolete. I didn’t paralyze me, but it was a heavy thought that visited me once in a while. That is never pleasant. Regardless, the months kept passing and AI tools didn’t replace software engineers; rather they augmented us. As soon as I tried Github Copilot; I grew to enjoy it’s abilities. At least in its current state, it can’t replace my thinking, but rather does the boring, simple stuff for me, and allows me to stay in a state of flow.

So, nothing drastic that I feared has really happened. Even with the recent layoffs in the industry, developers are still in demand for their application of problem-solving skills. More on that later.

My decent mental state was recently tested with announcement of an AI agent that claims to replace all work as a software engineer. It’s announcement and demonstration made waves on the internet. But this time, my anxiety didn’t spike. Why not?

In the background, I came to understand the issue in a better way, and came to peace. What did I conclude? Since economically-valuable software development is not an isolated, bounded endeavour, general problem-solving skills will be needed to interact with the actual domain’s problems and stakeholders. This means that the true value and skill of software developers is the problem-solving, not the code generation. Of course, I already knew that, but it just took me some time to apply this to the AI threat.

Until we have full AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), AI-based software engineering tools will augment and upgrade a developer’s abilities to solve problems, allowing us to create superior solutions and tackle grander problems in the world. And there are endless problems right now. Of course, if we consider the scenario that we actually do achieve AGI, then software engineers won’t be the only ones out of work. It will be a whole new world and almost everyone, regardless of profession will have to ‘figure things out’. While that can be slightly unsettling, it is impossible to plan for the ‘end of the world’, and I find it a lot easier to accept that kind of uncertainty.