Why Some Software Developers Fear A.I.


Nearly a third of software developers feel that artificial intelligence will eventually take their jobs, according to a new survey from Evans Data Corp.

Some 29.1 percent of the 550 respondents said they feared A.I. would replace their “development efforts.” That eclipsed developers’ other fears, including the eventual obsolescence of their targeted platforms (23 percent) or that their latest platform won’t see widespread adoption (14 percent).

“Another dimension to this finding is that over three-quarters of the developers thought that robots and artificial intelligence would be a great benefit to mankind, but a little over 60 [percent] thought it could be a disaster,” Janel Garvin, CEO of Evans Data, wrote in a statement accompanying the data. “Overlap between two groups was clear which shows the ambivalence that developers feel about the dawn of intelligent machines. There will be wonderful benefits, but there will also be some cataclysmic changes culturally and economically.”

In January, a report released in conjunction with the World Economic Forum in Switzerland suggested that machine learning, robotics, 3D printing, genetics, and other cutting-edge technologies would lead to the loss of roughly 5 million jobs within the next five years.

While industries such as heavy manufacturing have already seen job losses due to automation, tech professions such as datacenter administration have also been impacted by software.

But not everybody feels that A.I. will prove a job-killer. “This is not about replacing people,” CEO Virginia Rometty told an audience at the Gartner Symposium late last year. “It’s about augmenting what man does.”

If you believe that the survey from Evans Data is representative of the software-development industry as a whole, though, it’s clear that a substantial portion of developers are worried about what the future might bring.

16 Responses to “Why Some Software Developers Fear A.I.”

  1. I have been developing software for 42 years. Do you know how many times someone has come out and said developers will no longer be needed or something is going to replace developers? I’ll believe it when I see it. Interesting read though.

  2. Software developers are needed to maintain and upgrade the AI. I don’t think we have anything to fear job wise. More advanced technology would lead to more software developers needed.

  3. Every field in every industry is “threatened” by automation and AI. Over the next hundred years, humans will become useful only as inventors – we will only be needed for our creative thinking. Brute force will be completely taken over by machines. Even tasks like coding will turn into a simple conversation with the computer about what you are trying to code. The bottom line is that there will be very few jobs and we will need to rethink our entire economic system as well as our perspective on unemployed people. Worldwide we will either have tremendous abundance distributed to all people, or only the few CEOs and billionaires will own everything and the rest of us will be the peons. Depends how we approach this thing.

  4. Jim McDonald

    Artificial Intelligence has been a worry since the days prior to Asimov. He codified the elements that were necessary to keep humans from being unnecessary in the post automation world. His concerns and worries did clearly outline the global and particular concerns we have to face as we move toward “Smarter” machines. The real interesting comment I remember was one from a writer a long time ago.
    “Mankind’s first contact will not be with intelligences from the stars. Our first contact will be the sentient race we make ourselves.”

    Arthur Clarke.

  5. Rob Broden

    Any thing can happen. I’ve written code that has diminished my own labor. I just moved along to the next thing. Things advance and people who don’t stay behind.

  6. They will still need us to run and troubleshoot those.

    If they think the illogical/irrational minds of normal users can direct them…ha get ready for machine armageddon.

  7. Already, machines are diagnosing cancer better than a team of doctors. (see Watson)

    As recently as the early 2000s, top computer scientists were confidently predicting that a fully automated, self-driving car wouldn’t be seen for decades.

    In fact, there isn’t a single human activity that isn’t codified already. Can anybody name one?

    From global supply chain management, to the stock market, to sales and marketing, software is today running it all.

    The question isn’t whether machines will take our jobs — they already have.

    The question becomes: what do humans do — and always do — better than machines? What human traits are difficult to codify? — Empathy, collaboration, cooperation, innovation, care, love…. And what might machines be BAD at — even now that we’ve arrived at the day and age that we’ve codified them to accomplish just about every human need imaginable?

  8. Every new invention creates fears that it will put the vast majority of people out of work, but what actually happens is that most of them learn new skills and return to the workforce to invent the next big thing. Sure, some won’t see the value in learning a different trade and they become statistics for people to point at as proof that technology is bad, but at that point, it’s more-or-less your own choice to work or not.

    If you want a job after a technology shift, learn how to get it and go get it. Better yet, try and observe enough to see it coming so that you can hop right over to that new position without missing a beat. Like Perry seems to suggest, there will always be things for humans to do because machines are inherently bad at them.

  9. I am an IT professional with 20 yrs. in industry. I was a not even a teen when I saw a big crowd in India protesting against introduction of computers in govt. and corporations fearing job loss.

    Today anyone one can tell where IT in India is.

    No matter what automation comes in, there will always be jobs because invention NEVER stops.

  10. Most everyone here is saying: “They’ll still need us to maintain the AI”

    That much is true, but you’re missing the point for the greater majority of society. Populations won’t decrease they’ll increase so how do you expect to employ the still 320 million in the nation when you only need (hypothetically) about 30-50 million to run the whole robot-powered show? It’s highly unlikely that a new economic model will develop quickly enough to satisfy the need of the populous while companies make the transition to automation systems, and all that’s really going to take is one robust, well thought out API that fits most all industries. You might be safe, but nobody is going to be buying your companies goods if nobody is making any money to buy them.

  11. BC Shelby

    “Over the next hundred years, humans will become useful only as inventors – we will only be needed for our creative thinking”

    …and what will happen to the millions who don’t have the technical aptitude, nor can afford the training involved to stay abreast of tech trends? Many of the “unskilled, semi skilled, and even skilled ” jobs will by then be automated as well resulting in massive unemployment that will make the last recession look like a speed bump.

    It isn’t just manufacturing either. Amazon already has fully automated warehouses. McDonalds is running trials with automated restaurants in Europe. Google and Mercedes are experimenting with autonomous vehicles. Airbus aircraft are pretty much able to pilot and even land themselves. All these functions are currently jobs held by people.

    Apologies, but this will not usher in a “Star Trek Federation” type world where everything is provided and money isn’t an object anymore. It will result in riots, acts of sabotage, a marked increase in crime, massive slums surrounding our cities, pandemics (as millions will have no access to healthcare and services like clean water), starvation, and possibly even wars.

    Such a level of automation will usher in a dystopia as depicted in the film “Elysium”, with the only “utopia” being for the wealthy because it will never cure greed.

  12. as machine intelligence handles more and more generalized tasks us humans presumably need to adopt more and more creative tasks. i.e. if machines can sketch out and compile entire code bases than the human developer will need to no longer just write classes and functions but choice frameworks and make security and design decisions. perhaps next machines, when even more generalized intelligence can make those big picture decisions and even architect large and sophisticated software systems, us humans will need to i unno.. understand human factors such as the users experience, or the cultural climate, etc. Maybe when machine systems can understand those factors, us humans will only be able to offer certain hard to even describe characteristics such as a “style” or “character” to the software (insert music, business, or anything for software btw)..

    So the way i see it is as long as we maintain some unique intelligence over machines it is up to us to use it to remain useful. once we don’t have that, we are a statistically insignificant factor in further progress and you better hope we have given up capitalism and the machines are nice.

  13. AI will undoubtedly replace many forms of “knowledge labor”, just as the internal combustion engine replaced many forms of manual labor. Certainly many low to mid-level coding jobs will be at risk over the next 20 years. There will still be a need for people to determine the needs of end users and feed those specs into the AI coding systems. The best strategy, I think, is to get involved with data science/machine learning, etc. and become a contributor to this new wave of innovation.

  14. Matthew Siegel

    I think a lot of this hubbub is more over the fact that the majority of the software currently being developed is more oriented to quantitative rather than qualitative technologies, which are diverting the core competencies of what is quickly becoming an accultural, quick-fix-short-attention-span society! That said, I do not think that in both our and in succeeding generations technology, standing alone, will so vastly supplant creativity, human impulse and practical wisdom as to otherwise truly pose an obstacle to making a living for most workers — as long as America regains its mindset that in order to thrive one must take the time to think about what he or she does, and to do it better than anyone else!

  15. Scott

    Aircraft that fly themselves have been around for a very long time. They employ multiple redundant computers that must agree with each other as to how to move control surfaces based upon a pilot’s actions and/or their own reactions to slight course deviations due to wind, etc. The reason that humans (pilots), which are still the most advanced computers are at the controls is so they can takeover when the aircraft’s systems fail. Conversely, modern aircraft can be programmed to take over when humans fail. Humans will never be entirely displaced by AI. Robotic programmers will have to be built by human programmers. Been there, done that. Any programmatic deficit/bug programmed into the robotic programmer will replicate across a constellation of programs written by the robotic programmer. Been there, done that. The biggest employment threat to US programmers is not AI. It’s shipping jobs offshore, soon to be as close as international waters off the coast of California. Don’t worry about AI.