September 19, 1977 is known as “Black Monday” in Youngstown, Ohio. That was the day the Youngstown Sheet and Tube company announced its closure. It led to a domino effect that resulted in the closure of other industrial factories in Youngstown. Like many cities of that era, Youngstown never became economically diversified. It relied on manufacturing for the bulk of its economy. When factories started closing, almost overnight, hundreds of people were out of work and the economy of the town tanked.
The story of Youngstown is the kind of narrative that comes to mind when we think of the deindustrialization of the American rust belt, with manufacturing moving to other countries or factories being retooled with robots that replace human workers. But the never-ending rate and pace of technological change is affecting more than just the blue-collar factory worker, it is also now affecting the people who create and program the robots. We now live in a world where the programmers themselves are being replaced.
"Who we hire, how we plan for the future and what training we send our current employees to all depends on evaluating the future of technology correctly."
I’ve been working with computers and IT for about 35 years. For years, when high school students asked me what career to pursue, I would always say computer programming. Computers will always be around and so will the need for programmers. Well, as it turns out, I’ve been around long enough that my advice might not be good advice anymore. Artificial intelligence (AI) has now reached into the larger world of computers and they have begun writing their own code.
As an IT manager, one of my main jobs is to always be looking ahead and to be constantly asking the question, “Where is this all going?” It is important because who we hire, how we plan for the future and what training we send our current employees to all depends on evaluating the future of technology correctly.
Computer programmers who are reading this probably feel a little bit slighted. Computer programmers often take a lot of pride in creating the best and cleanest code. Some take pride in being the best at documenting their code. But going beyond programming efficiency, there are also other questions, like whether computers could be “creative” programmers. Anyone who has done significant coding can tell you that there is a creative element to programming. All of these are good and fair questions, but the answer to all of them is that, over time, these things can be factored in and included in the code-writing software.
Will this AI evolution intrinsically change the face the IT office? Will computer code write computer code and replace human workers? In general, the answer to the question is yes. Computers will eventually replace programmers and eventually create their own programming. There will always be some programmers around, but in the future, we will need a lot less of them. I imagine high-level specialty programmers will probably always be needed, but most of the repetitive “boiler-plate” code that entry-level programmers historically have written will probably be written by the software itself.
The future is ultimately anyone’s guess, but one thing I am certain of is this: when a high school student who is interested in technology asks me where they should focus their career, I am going to say artificial intelligence. That seems to be the direction technology is heading—at least for now.