Will Technique Die?

“You can’t have art without resistance in the materials”

The AI hype peaked three years ago, but in a shrewd move, AI was simply waiting around the corner to ambush us when we let our guard down. At least that’s what I can gather from two articles that popped up on my Waverly this morning.

The first, from O’Reilly, explores how AI is being used by programmers to speed-up their craft using a tool called Copilot. It asks whether AI will enable some form of “higher level compilation” that will make it unnecessary for programmers to learn how to code.

The second, from Wired, asks artists what they think of people using their names in DALL·E and Midjourney prompts:

“When they’re feeding work from living, working artists who are, you know, struggling as it is, that’s just mean-spirited,”

Yeah. They’re not happy…

From my experience coding recommender systems and doing research in AI, my take is slightly different. We’re inventing new tools that open up new territory. We’ll learn how to craft in this new space. Some techniques will become more useful, some will become less useful. It will suck for some people and be great for others.

The problem of the new technique — the “type a prompt and the AI will do the rest” technique — is that it’s easy to believe there’s no technique at all. That any kid could master that craft after spending 5 minutes on Midjourney or by typing a few words into Copilot.

Except that’s not true. Midjourney artists and Copilot coders soon learn that they need to understand how the AI “perceives” their prompt. They need to co-evolve a language with their new AI tool. Something like that already happened in the past, with Google. We all had to learn how to write good queries. We co-evolved a language with the search engine.

Learning this language — especially when it comes to writing code that will be maintained by others — will necessarily be rooted in the human’s deep understanding of what they are trying to achieve. If you don’t know how to organize software, which pieces to abstract out, which pieces to disentangle, then Copilot wont help you.

Will we ever get a computer that can program itself entirely? Something you could direct the same way you can direct a top human programmer today? Maybe, but that’s still very much in our AI-hyped future.

What we’ll get a lot of are these new tools, like Copilot and Midjourney, that completely change the techniques one can use to achieve a piece of code… or a piece of art!