You hear it at tech conferences and whispered in the office halls: will AI replace web developers? Is AI replacing web developers already?
Artificial Intelligence has been one of the hottest buzzwords in tech for a few years now. Right now AI is applied to narrow use cases to automate routine tasks. Robotic arms assemble cars and chatbots are quickly replacing some customer service agents. We can order at kiosks at McDonald’s and Tesla cars can already drive themselves.
The Brookings Insitute reports 25% of jobs are at risk of automation within the next decades, and the number is even higher for some traditionally large job markets, like transportation, construction, and retail. There’s absolutely no doubt automation is going to bring drastic changes to the job market and our economy. But how will it affect high-skill, creative jobs like web design and development?
Actually, it already has.
The Death of HTML + CSS Web Designers
There are a handful of AI website builders for simple static sites that do a pretty decent job. If you have your copy, links, and images ready to go, an unskilled lay person can build a full website in under an hour. They may look a bit basic and lack any kind of advanced functionality, but if you just need a brochure site they’re not a bad option.
Web applications like SquareSpace and Wix can also hold a business owner’s hand and walk them through creating a basic website. The result has been a large decline in pure web design jobs, which would entail building static websites with HTML and CSS.
However, the demand for web applications has been growing for years and with it the demand for web developers. It’s important to understand the distinction between web design and web development, especially if you work in or with the industry.
Static websites are a means to communicate information, like business hours or product descriptions. They’re designers are closer to graphic design than software engineering. Web applications, on the other hand, use computing power to solve problems in new and novel ways. That then must necessitate understanding human problems, needs, behavior, and motivation. Understanding humanity is a much greater roadblock than defeating us at Go. I doubt AI will be able to completely replicate intelligence indistinguishable from a human anytime soon.
Plus, web and software developers are already used to a constant stream of new tools and methodologies that improve their capabilities, and that’s just it - their capabilities are increasing, not decreasing. That means they can solve more, larger problems. Powerful problem-solvers aren’t going obsolete anytime soon. It stands to reason then that improved AI means a higher demand for web developers, not the opposite.
You Can’t Automate Creativity or Relationships
As artificial intelligence becomes more adept at automating increasingly complex tasks, it will be social and creative jobs that best weather the storm. Therapists and composers will have jobs for the foreseeable future. Human personalities and key human traits like empathy and altruism are very difficult to program, if they are actually replicable at all.
Most developers work on teams and spend a majority of their day creating in some capacity. As a job at the nexus of communication, creativity, and technology, web development jobs should be as secure as any against growing automation.
However, the most routine tasks and procedures will fall away, allowing more and more people to focus on higher and higher value taks. Essentially, that has been the story of economic progress for centuries and isn’t changing anytime soon.
Boring and repetitive jobs will be automated away, whether it’s in the next 10 years or 100 years. This is a cause for great celebration, not fear and anxiety. More humans will be able to focus on what we’re best at, like building relationships, creating art, solving problems, and enjoying our lives.
Tech will be very different. Web developers may or may not exist, but there will always be jobs for people capable of using the latest technologies creatively to help other people and solve problems. As new technologies develop new jobs arise out of them. VR and AR designers and developers are small job markets set to boom in the next decades. For all we know, in 50 years individuals will be able to create entire virtual worlds for their users.
AI will certainly change job titles and specific skill sets, but valued traits like people management, general tech proficiency, and a creative eye will continue to be valued and find people employment. And if it doesn’t? Sudden large scale unemployment leads to drastic political change, and we would probably see something like the Universal Basic Income come into effect pretty quickly. Either way, I believe our future is bright.
So, is AI replacing web developers? Not yet, but maybe one day. They'll be alright.