Will GenAI do to code what autotune did to music?

Our origins at Sema are deeply rooted in a multi-decade history of computer science with hundreds of years of combined team wisdom. Occasionally, we publish philosophical think-pieces from accomplished engineers. After all, the topics of AI and ethics are inextricably linked, with logic being foundational to the fields of both disciplines. In this piece, JP May, a technologist on our team at Sema, shares his thoughts about a common insecurity that many developers share with us about GenAI — “Will it overshadow my creativity? Will it extinguish my love for my craft?” JP, having reached 10M+ developers on Stack Overflow with his wisdom and having written over 420,000 lines of code (he just counted) for corporations and startups, will lead you to your own conclusion.

Jan 23, 2024
min read

Autotune. Nothing has advanced music like autotune. Autotune. Nothing has set back music like autotune.

"Yeah, autotune, I would use it." —Sir Paul McCartney

"Good thing I wasn't born to be a part of that." —Bob Dylan (post-mortem)

"It's just tuning." —Mark Ronson

"Death of autotune!" —Jay-Z

"Autotune destroyed popular music." —Rick Beato

"It's one of the tools in the box." —Kanye West

"It democratized music. It's a tool that allows creativity to flourish." —

Has autotune destroyed the craft of music? Has autotune changed the world and put us in an era of bland corporate pop, easily created, and easily sold? "You take autotune, I'll take Zepp and the Stones," says your dinosaur-rock grands. Has autotune made redundant the concept of brilliant, supernaturally gifted singers and players?

Or, has autotune "democratized" music, resulting in a host of new creators who previously would never have got through the gates? And for the few supernatural musical talents, is autotune a wondrous new tool to further creativity?

Autotune was a clever bit of software that you could easily say has drastically affected "culture" — music is the, uh, soundtrack of culture after all. But, whoa, now we're moving up a paradigm: there's now a kinda autotune for software itself. Scary?

Will GenAI destroy the craft of programming?

That's the immediate question. You can easily see the two ways of looking at it. 

We've all been there. You're hanging out at the desk of a novice programmer who begins typing (badly! can't even type fast yet but will get there soon enough!) something like "loop through to change all the items of …" and boom, GenAI code drops in a 7 or 8 line function that, sure enough, seems to do about what is needed.

Ok, you're bitter because the AI naming isn't as elegant — as witty, perhaps — as it would be if you wrote it from scratch. And you're bitter because this kid hasn't gone through the grind of years of really internalizing the nature of something as basic as "loops" in programming — like you had to.

But, what the hey, it's only a popup on a web page. A couple hours later the web page and the popup is working fine, and the product owners and the rest of the gang have that "Phew" feeling when you can cross something off a list.

Hasn't software always been about tools? 

Whole domains of the software industry, whether something like Unity for games, things like Firebase for data, and, hell, AWS itself, exist on the basis "Let's try to eliminate lots of programming jobs by simplifying and tool-izing one area after another…"

But wait, there's the whole troubling "The era of endless brilliant creative revolution in music, which began with the invention of the electric guitar, ended the day autotune was invented – coincidence?" analogy.

If GenAI code makes it really easy to throw together website pop-ups, will the world of software become nothing more than a whole lot of bland, mediocre, competent — but breakthrough-free — dribble?

Hang on a minute.

Making software, as a business, is anyway challenging, because the productivity of programmers varies incredibly, certainly by an order of magnitude, and maybe more than that. Maybe like 1.5 orders of magnitude, or even two.

Given that basic paradigm in the nature of hiring, managing, or being, a computer programmer … What is it we  think will happen in the GenAI revolution? Is the idea that slower programmers will speed-up? (If so, should we have seen that happening by now?) Conversely, is the plan that fast programmers will get even faster? (Ditto?) Or is it a democratization thing? 

Keeping track of global GenAI compliance standards 

Periodically, Sema publishes a no-cost newsletter covering new developments in Gen AI code compliance. The newsletter shares snapshots and excerpts from Sema’s GenAI Code compliance Database. Topics include recent highlights of regulations, lawsuits, stakeholder requirements, mandatory standards, and optional compliance standards. The scope is global.

You can sign up to receive the newsletter here.

About Sema Technologies, Inc. 

Sema is the leader in comprehensive codebase scans with over $1T of enterprise software organizations evaluated to inform our dataset. We are now accepting pre-orders for AI Code Monitor, which translates compliance standards into “traffic light warnings” for CTOs leading fast-paced and highly productive engineering teams. You can learn more about our solution by contacting us here.


Sema publications should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general information purposes only. To request reprint permission for any of our publications, please use our “Contact Us” form. The availability of this publication is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. The views set forth herein are the personal views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Firm.

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