Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as a game-changer across industries with endless opportunities for automation and efficiency gains. However, alongside its transformative potential, AI brings with it a clear paradox that developers need to navigate: the prospect for increased technical debt. With already 46% of the code on GitHub being AI generated, software engineers can, and should, be excited yet cautious. Here is why.
How AI can lead to more technical debt
The million-dollar question - Can AI write perfect code?
Large Language Models (LLMs) like OpenAI GPT operate on well-defined grammatical structures and the inherent predictability of language. They essentially predict the next word in a sentence, but with a much larger and nested context. Programming languages, characterized by the deterministic relationship between input and output, are easily predictable. Thus, writing code has become a huge use case for LLMS, yet software developers don't seem all too worried about being replaced. Let's find out why!
The cost of cheaper and less complex software:
Leveraging LLMs certainly holds the promise of expediting software development by (partially) automating code writing, resulting in quicker prototypes and more rapid iterations. However, LLM-generated code may not always align seamlessly with established best practices and design patterns, potentially leading to suboptimal solutions. Over time, the accumulation of such code snippets could introduce technical debt, requiring refactoring efforts to rectify inconsistencies, performance bottlenecks, or security vulnerabilities. Some potential pitfalls:
- Increased complexity
Copying-in AI-generated code snippets requires proper expertise and a thorough review. A rushed implementation might lead to code that lacks modularity and clarity. With the cost of these lines of code being extremely low it can be tempting to heavily rely on externally generated codes. This can easily compound technical debt, especially when proper testing, documentation, and best practices take a back seat.
- Full dependency and overreliance:
By using third-party AI services developers can free up from doing repetitive, time-consuming coding tasks. However, this reliance can lead to code that is difficult to troubleshoot or modify, especially if developers do not fully comprehend or review what is being provided by the AI service. Programmers must exercise caution to ensure that the short-term convenience of automation does not compromise the long-term technical integrity of their applications.
How AI can lead to a debt-free future
An important note is to be made on AI having the potential, if used correctly, to prevent and limit technical debt.
- AI has the ability to predict potential pitfalls by analyzing coding patterns of past issues, historical data, and industry trends. This proactive approach enables developers to address issues early, preventing them from escalating into substantial technical debt.
- AI-powered tools are not only adept at identifying potential debt but also in recommending code refactoring strategies. These tools can pinpoint areas in the codebase that could benefit from optimization or restructuring.
- AI can automate the documentation process by analyzing the code and generating relevant documentation snippets. This not only saves time but also enhances the overall comprehensibility of the codebase, reducing the risk of debt caused by lack of understanding or not adhering to coding standards.
It’s clear that the fusion of AI and software development isn't just about automation; it's about empowerment. AI may automate certain tedious tasks in technical fields, but AI can not replace the creativity, intuition, and problem-solving abilities of human developers.
How can Panenco support you?
At Panenco we tread carefully when using these innovative tools, balancing between automations and adhering to standards, always with the proper testing and validation in place. Together with our experienced AI team, we help our clients efficiently leverage this technology on a day-to-day basis. By navigating this paradox thoughtfully, our software professionals can harness this new power without compromising the integrity and sustainability of your codebases. In addition, we help our clients identify areas where AI can add value to their business model. A perfect showcase for this is Valcori where we use AI to optimise the tendering process.
Do you need help building a high quality software, leveraging the latest technology. Or do you have some inevitable technical debt build-up in your product? Let’s talk and see where we can help each other.
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