As someone who spent the best part of the 2010s working in new media, I can attest that it was a tumultuous time. The constant layoffs and jeering messages urging us to “learn to code” because our industry was doomed made for a stressful work environment. Eventually, I took their advice and learned to code, pivoting to what I hoped would be a more secure career in web development. However, recent advances in AI have made many coding jobs redundant. AI chatbots have learned to code and are already better at it than many human developers.
For the uninitiated, code can be daunting. It’s a language that often looks like a calculator having a stroke. But according to AI’s most fervent evangelists, it no longer needs to be a barrier. Chatbots can now translate code into layperson’s terms and provide instructions for users. While the AI may make mistakes, a working knowledge of code can help correct them. And it’s easy to imagine a future in which chatbots can discern users’ needs and walk them through solutions, making human developers obsolete.
It’s tempting to succumb to the fatalism around AI job theft. The technology’s loudest cheerleaders are eager to cultivate it and encourage us to surrender to a robotic new dawn. But it’s important to remember that the ability to shortcut how to do something doesn’t equate to developing a full understanding of why you would. AI chatbots haven’t broken some omertà around coding. They’ve simply digested resources and open-source materials that were already available for human beings to learn from. Skipping this phase by leveraging a chatbot’s knowledge forfeits the opportunity to understand the machine’s decisions, why it’s making them, whether they’re any good, and what else is possible.
Web design and development involve lateral thinking. There is rarely ever an objective and singular correct way to achieve something. You have to consider all the different contexts a user will encounter on your site, how you want them to interact with it, what you want to elicit in them, and whether what you’ve put together will make their phone overheat and explode, killing them instantly. A machine trained to aggregate and condense the entire web to its most predictable forms doesn’t think like this, and neither does a user reliant on one.
As someone who has been fortunate enough to work on projects where clients hired me for my coding knowledge and creative ideas, I can attest that learning to code has been professionally fruitful. Additionally, I actually enjoy it. The rush when a harebrained idea improbably works is like nothing else. There are projects I endeavor to make, whether someone pays me or not. While AI may diminish certain aspects of my earning power, I’m not about to have such a low opinion of my craft that I think it’s essentially the same as typing a command into a chat box. Nobody should.
Silicon Valley is making a concerted effort to make us believe that the human mind is predictable, replicable, and unsophisticated. They suggest that the arts and adjacent sectors are reducible to a set of equations and keywords, as they’ve spent billions creating machines that can knock out forgeries of creative endeavor and mildly amusing images of Harry Potter characters wearing Balenciaga. But this speaks to such a paucity of imagination on the part of AI’s exponents that they’re asking us to imagine having an imagination. They cannot conceive of deriving enjoyment and gratification from creating art or why someone would prefer to craft their own stories instead of outsourcing the entire process to a machine. They lack even the basic conviction in their own ideas to come up with Game of Thrones fan fiction without asking a computer to do their homework.
The heaviest salivating around the potential of AI is coming from those who see it as an exciting cost-cutting measure that might allow capital to finally become unshackled from its old adversary, labor. It’s absurd to suggest that humanity’s collective recorded cultural output has been concluded and bottled at this specific point. The potential of AI is undoubtedly vast, but it’s important to remember that it’s not a replacement for human creativity and ingenuity. We should embrace AI as a tool to enhance our abilities, not replace them.