At Google I/O yesterday, the company unveiled a new tool that aims to help Android developers create and debug their apps with the help of artificial intelligence. The tool, called Studio Bot, is a conversational assistant that lives inside Android Studio, Google's official integrated development environment (IDE) for Android.
Studio Bot supports Kotlin, the main language used for Android development, while Java support is planned for a future release. Developers can ask Studio Bot questions about Android APIs, libraries, and best practices, and get quick answers or code examples. They can also request Studio Bot to debug a portion of their code, suggest improvements, create test cases, or update APIs.
Google claims that Studio Bot is still in its “very early days” and that it will continue to train it to improve its accuracy and reliability. The company also warns that Studio Bot might sometimes provide inaccurate, misleading, or false information while presenting it confidently. Therefore, developers should always verify the information and code provided by Studio Bot before using it in their projects.
Studio Bot is currently only available to developers in the US via the Canary channel of Android Studio. Google has not announced when it will launch the tool globally or in other channels. Furthermore, the company points out Studio Bot is an experimental project that is separate from Google's other AI initiatives.
Automated AI Coding Tools: A New Tech Battlefield
AI is transforming the software development industry. Tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are competing to offer the best AI-powered tools for code generation and debugging. Here are some of the recent developments in this field:
- GitHub Copilot, a joint project between Microsoft and OpenAI, uses GPT-4 to suggest code snippets based on users' inputs. GitHub Copilot is powered by OpenAI Codex, a generative pretrained language model created by OpenAI. Earlier this year, GitHub showcased its future vision with GitHub Copilot X, which includes an integration with OpenAI's GPT-4.
- As we reported today, AI software firm Builder.ai received an equity investment from Microsoft. The deal will allow users to access Builder.ai's Natasha AI product manager through Microsoft Teams. Builder.ai and GitHub Copilot are two different types of AI-powered tools for software development. Builder.ai is a no-code platform that enables users to create apps by choosing from various templates and features, without writing any code. The service is ideal for non-technical users who want to build simple or standard apps.
- Google teamed up with Replit to offer Ghostwriter, an AI tool that helps developers write code. The partnership also gives Replit developers access to Google Cloud and vice versa. Additionally, Google brought code generation and debugging to its Bard AI chatbot. Users can simply type their coding questions or requests in natural language, and Bard will generate multiple drafts of possible responses for them to choose from. Users can also ask follow-up questions or have Bard try again if they are not satisfied with the results.
AI Takeover: Is Programming Dead?
Tools such as Studio Bot, GitHub Copilot, and CodeWhisperer claim to solve may problems for programmers, and in terms of workflow they do. However, these AI tools also create their own problems with concerns programming as a profession will become redundant in the future.
As Large Language Models (LLMs) become more powerful and capable, could they one day replace the programmer entirely? Sadly, there is no definite answer to that question, although for now a cautionary probably not. AI is not close to replacing programmers and stealing jobs, at least not at skill-curve level. In a recent interview with Lex Fridman, Wolfram Research founder, Stephan Wolfram, says there is a future for programming through changes in programming education, and emphasizes the importance of learning practical programming skills.
Instead, AI programming tools are excellent companions and collaboration solutions for coding. Of course, more powerful LLMs or the advent of Advanced General Intelligence (AGI) may change the outlook.
What is known now is that programming tools from Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are controversial. While they claim to be code generating AIs, they are not creating the code. Instead, the bot scrapes databases to find snippets of code from other projects to plug gaps in the code given as a prompt. This has led to concerns about AI using the work of others for free.
For example, GitHub Copilot has received widespread criticism from open-source copyright advocates since its launch. Many claim it is unfair that the project scrapes the code of other users without attributing it to them.
The service is currently involved in a class action lawsuit by Matthew Butterick, who claims Microsoft is violating GitHub's policies and code ethics such as attribution. Elsewhere, a recent study shows Copilot may produce less accurate and less secure code than human developers.