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GitHub Copilot and the Endangered Code Monkeyby@ajar
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GitHub Copilot and the Endangered Code Monkey

by Aaron ArtilleMay 16th, 2024
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If you’re a developer right now working as a “code monkey,” the time has long since come to start focusing your career goals on emphasizing your social value in the interest of self-preservation.
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(This story was written a couple years ago. It still stands, though I do feel the moral of the story has likely been run into the ground by others.)

Have you seen the state of consumer-facing AI lately? Shit’s ridiculous, bro.

This stuff is getting really good, and it's improving really quickly. It's such a cool thing to watch develop; even cooler than to take part in the work! But what are the implications to your career? That is, if you've still got one.

Not for nothing, seems to me that a lot of tech workers—and far beyond, as I will touch on an uncomfortably good bit in the next many paragraphs—really ought to be thinking carefully about what roles they play at work.

Further, I would implore every person working in tech to candidly assess whether or not the sweaty hats they wear today will be in style after one year more of this roided-out improvement trajectory. Style is far from the first thing that developers are known for, so just let that marinate a bit.

This article, at least so far, assumes that you ever had a career. If not, this article is still good for schadenfreude.

Anyway, there's good news and bad news tucked within this article. I don't want to scare you off this early, so let's start by taking a step back. I want to examine exactly where we're at through a brief review of modern-day tech and its effects upon industry.

Case Study: State of the Arts

Midjourney, a paid generative-art-as-a-service ("GAaaS") provider that gave me every reason I ever needed in life to give up on art, won a competition for its exquisite and low-key-superhuman production of fine art ("FArt") on behalf of one contestant—decidedly the best—at the Colorado State Fair.

He isn't the only one playing with this stuff to extents that often do feel like proper artistic expression: I, too, have either dipped my toe or gone balls-deep into these new GAaaS offerings. Like hey, I'm not saying "FArt is my passion," but it does take some effort to get those prompts juuust right.

Prompts are what's fed into these functions (transformers) to create the outputs desired. And also ones not desired at all.

A good prompt makes all the difference in the world between a legendary FArt masterpiece and a mangled pile of FArt-adjacent dogshit: What it's fed is most certainly of consequence to what spills like molasses out the back.

It's been fun playing with all of the options out there—some invite-only, some free, some paid—and it was a bit before my friends became less and less impressed with my ability to generate almost literally anything for them that didn't feature a human face or political figure (rules).

I guess they got bored. Here's the thing: It got boring for me too. Boring as fuck, in fact, to the point now that it's been literally months since I've even thought of using any of my paid-for tokens or subscriptions with one of those noble GAaaSes.

The irrevocable title of #1 Artist came well deserved to a man whom FArt enthusiasts have seen to be a messenger of the most robust fuck-you ever delivered to their people—a community coping now with the harsh reality that their parents may have been right about art school—and they won't soon regard the certified Best Artist of 2022 as some new-age DaVinci or Dali.

That's likely just an issue of collision in the namespace, though, as the once-open AI research group and prohibitively spendy auto-complete provider OpenAI has not only popularized generative art amongst the general public through a free model called DALL-E mini, but has recently been going just as obscenely hard with their new GAaaS model called DALL-E 2 (no waitlist).

Case Study: What Came of Sex Tech

Meanwhile, and speaking of going hard to the point of obscenity, a couple friends of mine have been struggling lately to invent new and improved kinks intended to spice up their remote, transcontinental, bot-fucking sex life. They're hacking these novel smut routines straight into their intimately mutual Lovense user exxxperience. Works for a little while, then they get bored. As they say: "Once you go

dp3_pp_invert_8.SAK
, you never go back." But this goes way deeper than my friends, I assume, have gone.

I bring this up because it sounds like science-friction, but no: My friend Andy basically has a mechanical bull in his bedroom, except the bull goes on top in this case, and falling off at the climax is covered under warranty.

So, what's the impact on sex work and adult entertainment? Because I was always under the impression that any social enterprises—adult film, adult audio, VR entertainment (naked), sex work, mental health therapy, politics, amateur pornography, and the like—would be among the most resilient to the rise of automation, so what's the deal with that? And speaking of my Junior year of high school: What's the deal with companies like Fleshlight and other sex toys popular with the Neanderthal?




The answer, of course, is that adult entertainment is as healthy & wealthy as ever. Although an old-school sex toy is to the Sex Machine what a TI-84 calculator is to my MacBook, and although primitive features like the mini-shaft appendage for clitoral stimulation make the Sex Machine laugh hard enough for milk to shoot out its mechanical urethra pump, the human element is still very much at play. As we'll see, models adapted too.

If I've just turned you on—

lol
—to this brave new world, but you're sad because you have no one to share it with—
lol
never fear: Lovense lets you fly solo if that's more your... deal. It leverages AI, I assume, that takes you right on down to Plow Town. Mathematically better than some second-rate human lover or Fleshlight ever would. Or could even hope to. You will never measure up to anything in their product lineup, if I am being frank.

You finishing first is a design goal.

For those of us who can't afford such a sophisticated Sex Machine, and for those whose... deal... is otherwise not conducive to having a motorized dildoing where the couch used to be, it's still possible to get in on this by thrusting tokens into the cloud. On Chaturbate, you pay to play: Just tip the model and their IoT-enabled furniture will express your love with rigor. It was less than a decade back that this kind of thing was straight-up satire, literally parodied by The Onion in a prophetic YouTube gem from 2013.


The End is Nigh, My Guy

"The hell is he on [about]?" Seems like that would be a valid question in 2023, I concede. Still, I would bet my bottom dollar that you know exactly what I'm talking about. Just take a moment and consider: It wasn’t like this a couple years ago, right? Like... not at all? Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe. But not as crazy as how quickly we get bored with an early future.

The future is getting distinctly nearer at an accelerating rate, from what I can gather, and I honestly don't doubt that we'll see generalized AI within the next two years. For the moment, though, are we really going to just sit here? Can we as a species seriously just stand on the sidelines and take in that new-era-of-society smell as it grows evermore potent?

Why yes, of course! We can absolutely choose to bend over and let the powers that be developing programs at 1e14% the rate of an ape have our way with us, per aforementioned lust algorithms. Feels so good, and we most definitely will bend over for that. Any and every day of the week.


Case Study: GitHub Copilot Taking Yer Jerb (Actually)

Finally, we have GitHub Copilot: better than you in almost every single way, including ways you can't think of... But do you know what can think of ways it's better than you, albeit non-exhaustively? Nah, go ahead! Take a guess!

It's Copilot. But I will concede that it's not good enough to replace you on its own quite yet. It's fucking close, though, so don't take solace. The whole issue right now with GitHub is that it's constrained by how many tokens it can generate at once in a single request, so you need to chain together a sequence of requests. Could this be done automatically? Of course. But did Microsoft do you like that yet? No, because it would freak people out.

The bitch of development in 2023 is that you still have to go through and manually request the next sequential generation using 2-3 keystrokes each and every time it writes a third of a whole program for you.

Sometimes it gets stuck in a thought loop and you have to give it a little nudge. That's all. Just a hint of what to do next. It's pretty neat!

Anyway, if you've held out on trying Copilot due to reservations over use of open-source code to create the greatest programming tool ever offered for $10 monthly, then please allow me to demonstrate for you what it's like to "program" when you're not too white-knighting, ignorance-blissing, and plucking the grays out your neckbeard.

Needy for the Novel

But like all else in life, as soon as we get used to what's next, we'll begin to demand the presently unimaginable and then [tell Copilot to] make it [for us]. That's the bright side. Someone's got to do the thinking to figure out what appeals to humans. What better person for the job than a person?

People are so hungry for something fresh and unfamiliar. At least for me, that's a matter of some priority. At the same time, I am beginning to see an increasing thirst for attention and the grounding of some community. A lot of that no doubt has to do with COVID-19 lockdowns and a loss of human interaction for most people I know. It's getting better now, but I feel that level of isolation is just a sample of what's to come.

What happens when it's just one dude at McDonald's watching a robot make your shit? What happens when it's no dudes at McDonald's, and in fact no humans at all? I won’t take this train of thought too much farther than to quickly acknowledge just how pervasive this theme is throughout the human experience: Humans like humans, so as long as it matters what humans think, there may persist some measure of humanity yet.



AND THE GOOD NEWS?!

I don't know how much longer it will matter what humans think, but I'm silver-lining it. Here's my take in a nutshell: Lovense isn't going to replace sex workers. Midjourney might increase the value of human-generated art and stimulate a whole new wave of artists who can engineer their vision through creative prompts.

Likewise, if I'm right about this like I have been about everything else in my entire life so far, then humans working in IT will simply be moved around. We'll be designing new types of problems for other human engineers to worry about fixing. All for rent. We'll make rent, guys.

From where I’m sitting almost all of the time, it’s gotten to a point now where you should maybe start thinking about a career pivot if you consider yourself a “programmer." That is, if you feel your job is best described by saying that you “write code for a living,” and can't see a future in which you finally start talking to your coworkers and collaborating toward what's to come, then—choosing my words carefully—you're fucked.

Conclusion

If you aren’t an active social participant in your team’s development cycle—and if you neglect to begin pursuing the more hands-on, proactive, and human aspects of your work—then my assessment now is that it’s time to figure something out. The human element is an aspect of your occupation—regardless of what that is—that can no longer be half-assed. Social needs will, I think, be there for a while longer than mechanical ones.

If you don’t get into a habit soon of marketing the human in you, then the moment that it becomes unnecessary to have a code monkey stumble through a week of Google, StackOverflow, reddit and Discord when you should be working, existing code not aptly commented for Copilot to take, and the fucking manual—all in a paced effort to eventually produce what Copilot could do in 5-10 seconds—if nothing else, that should be when you begin counting your blessings as a gainfully employed software engineer.

Should have voted Yang.