Opinion

At the forefront of my own redundancy?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) - an unrequested yet endlessly helpful pal.

At the forefront of my own redundancy?

As a developer of digital solutions, this egoless and enthusiastic prodigy has become a genuine power tool for my day-to-day, performing code reviews and peer support that come very close to replicating my experiences of being in a larger development team, sadly with less swearing and/or playful abuse.

But, amid all the sizzle, is the steak any good? There’s a nagging voice in my head that sounds suspiciously like a sceptical mother-in-law. Are we staring down the barrel of our own obsolescence?

I think back to the chasm that separated me when I was a Junior PHP developer and the almost deity-like senior developers when I first started my career in tech. Now, with well over a decade of commercial experience delivering digital solutions to both simple & complex business problems, my experience feels less valuable today than only a couple of years ago.

I marvel at the efficiency and effectiveness the invisible colleague brings, but I can’t help but wonder about the eventual repercussions of this AI-driven evolution. The skill gap between a junior and a senior developer, once a wide hole filled with experience and wisdom, seems to be narrowing, fast.

Frankly, it isn’t beyond possible now that a mid-level development team might just be a group of people who knows how to get AI tools to fetch, sit, and rollover. Scary stuff, but we have seen this before.

Remember when satellite navigation devices became ubiquitous in cars? We celebrated the convenience, and suddenly everyone forgot how to get home from work. We failed to notice the downsides until it was too late. Generations have now grown up dependent on technology to navigate, losing the ability to read a physical map or remember road names. Often when I see a distant elderly relative, the discussion of what roads we took, “Was it A this or B that”, might as well be French. (I don’t speak French, but with AI, do I really need to?)

We also had self-checkout systems rolled out all over the country. Joyously hailed by retail CEOs as a revolutionary step toward efficiency. But amidst the applause, the appreciation of retail staff went unnoticed. Jobs were lost, skills became redundant, and the human element was slowly squeezed out. Doing the weekly shop now does not guarantee friendly banter or a chance to test soft skills that could be essential for certain individuals.

And, perhaps a step too far here, I recall my grandparents’ dismay when they found out I could use a calculator in my maths exams. They insisted that I knew how to press buttons, but not actually do anything skilful. I’d become reliant on the technology and that would be the extent of my talents. Given I am in my mid-30’s and I am not 100% certain if I can do percentages correctly, I think they were right.

It isn’t all doom and gloom. I like AI. I use it every day, and I think about the future and how my daughter with potential language difficulties can potentially thrive with what the world will look like in 15 years, because of the growing acceptance of technology. If an AI tool helps her communicate where she may struggle or allows her to connect her passions with something that helps her pay the bills, then I am all for it.

So all of this really brings us to the million-pound question: at what point do AI tools outshine the humans using them? Are we trading hard-earned expertise for a shiny new shortcut?

Our industry is at a crossroads. We have raced to embrace AI, but could we be digging our own professional graves? Is AI our loyal aide, or a silent usurper waiting in the wings?

Balance is crucial. We need to appreciate the human determination that laid the foundation of our industry while marvelling at AI’s shiny baubles. Despite AI’s brilliance, it remains a tool, and tools require a guiding hand.

We’re more than just tech aficionados. We’re leaders, visionaries, mavericks, and fucking good at what we do.

Yes, let’s celebrate AI, but not at the expense of our own expertise. After all, it’s our ideas, skills, and creativity that truly push the envelope, not just the AI adorning our screens. Ideas, concepts, relationships. This is what makes Salad work. Yes, AI has allowed me to test my code 1000 times over in a few minutes, or tell me why a bug is happening in a complex codebase, but I still push the buttons. I still provide input, and more importantly, I still validate what comes out of it. Let’s remember who’s in charge. Let’s wield AI to sculpt a smarter future, but ensure we’re always at the helm, never letting our crafted tools steal the spotlight.

And yes, I have used AI to support me in writing this. Transparency is something we must never let get lost for the sake of saving a few minutes of our day-to-day.

A final bit of advice: In case it does all go tits up, say please, thank you and well done to your AI tools whenever possible. You never know if that becomes the deciding factor of who gets to continue to be the guiding hand when we have all gone too far.

Matt Leach
Head of Digital
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