Will AI take away the coding jobs?
An Industrial Revolution, but for software.
I was talking to a friend today, who’s the founder of an AI-driven biotech startup. He asked me what I thought would happen to all the coders who would be put out of work by new AI tools. When I told him that I thought those tools would lead to an increase in the number of coders, he was quite surprised. I spent the next half hour explaining what I meant, and this post is that explanation.
A few years ago, people were worried about AI replacing rote occupations like restaurant servers or checkout clerks, and “learn to code” was a common piece of advice (and sometimes, a taunt). Today, the worries have moved upmarket. With AIs successfully competing in coding challenges, some are now fretting that the technology is moving so fast that soon even the smartest coders will be rendered obsolete.
I would say that I’ve given up trying to convince people that AI’s main function in the labor market might be something other than the wholesale replacement of human labor…except I haven’t. I haven’t given up. No, I can’t strictly rule out the possibility of human obsolescence, but the truth is, there are lots of reasons to think that AI will end up mostly complementing our skills and making our labor more valuable instead. And maybe if I explain enough of those reasons, enough times, the deep conviction that so many people feel about the AI threat might fade into a reasonable agnosticism.
One of those reasons, which roon and I explained in our post last November, is comparative advantage. I cited the example of a venture capitalist who’s an amazing typist, but who outsources the work of taking notes to someone who types more slowly than he does, simply because his time is more profitably spent elsewhere. In the same way, AIs that can do any task better and more cheaply than humans would still naturally want to focus their time and effort on the most high-value tasks, hiring humans to do the rest.
Today, I’m going to talk about a different reason: increased demand. To understand why AI might increase the number of coding jobs rather than decrease them, we need to think about the analogies between today’s AI revolution and the machine tool revolution of the previous two centuries.
Why didn’t machine tools replace assembly line workers?…Or did they?
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