The shock of ChatGPT

Gen AI is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever encountered. I’ve read explanations of how it works, but when I play with it, the responses feels like magic; as if I am talking to a creature that knows a huge amount of information, and can summarise it very quickly.

The improvements over the past few months are astounding. When I played with GPT-2 a couple of years ago, it seemed like a toy. In the past few days, I’ve been asking Chat GPT 3.5 for help with programming tasks in Angular. I’m not familiar with the framework, but ChatGPT can give me specific tutorials for the tasks I’m dealing with. I’m finding it easier to learn Angular than ever before.

A lot of the discussion I see on social media points out problems with genAI – yes, there are issues around how the data is collected. Yes, these things are not perfect. But a lot of the complaints feel like bargaining, people trying to persuade themselves that the results of this technology are mundane.

I do think there is a lot of hype around LLMs, but I am also convinced that they are going to have a huge effect in my work and career. I’m not convinced they will eliminate programmers, but they are going to make them much more productive – think stack overflow but more so. One article compared working with ChatGPT like being assisted in the task you’re working on by a very enthusiastic colleague whose code wasn’t perfect, but it would speed you up.

Stack Overflow has not reduced the number of software developers in the world – rather it has improved productivity and enabled people to build more complicated systems than ever before. In the early days, people were suspicious of IDEs, but now they are making it easier to manage large codebases. I look back at the web applications being built around 2000 and I’m amazed at the scale of what a team of developers can produce now.

ChatGPT fills me with existential dread – there are huge philosophical implications to the idea that a language model can do sophisticated tasks so easily. But as much as I’d like to pretend it is not significant, the best thing to do is learn how to use it, and work out what the role of a software developer is in this new world.

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