The Codex Skeptic FAQ

Most of my programmer friends believe that Language Models trained on code will not affect their day job anytime soon. In this post, I make the case that 1) code generation is already useful (assuming minimal prompt engineering skills) 2) even if you do not believe in 1), code generation will increase programmers’ throughput way sooner than it will fully automate them.

Language Models trained on Code do not bring us closer to Full Code Automation

This misconception comes from thinking linearly instead of exponentially. Language models are good enough at generating code to make the very engineers building such models slightly more productive, for instance when dealing with a new API. In other words, the returns (aka the improvements in the algorithm) from investing more resources in code generation directly helps (with better developer tools) create a better code-generating algorithm.

Code generation does not automate the part of my workday where I think hard

  • It still accelerates “glue code” or “API work”—a substantial fraction of large codebases.

  • Besides, only a set of privileged engineers get to think about the broad picture every day.

  • Plus, hard thinking is mostly required at the start, when designing the architecture.

  • And thinking seldom happens in a silo. It instead requires many iterations, through coding.

I asked a model to generate code but it doesn’t seem to be able to solve it

More often than not, the issue is not about the model. Try another prompt. (Example)

The output is outdated code from average programmers

Code quality (length, variable naming, taste) is prompt and hyperparameter dependent. Generally, language models use variables from the prompt and you can rename those yourself.

Only developers who repeat the same tasks will be automated so it will not affect me

You might still see gains in productivity in learning how to use a more advanced version.

My job does not involve solving simple coding tests from docstrings

You should be capable of separating your code in smaller functions and write docstrings.

Codex cannot solve my problem since it has only access to a limited training set

Github Copilot stores your data. Supposedly, the same applies to the Codex beta.

Current Language Models still make silly mistakes

If the mistake is silly, then fixing it is trivial.

Anyway, it is error prone so it cannot be used for critical software

It generates less error than I do when writing code for the first time.

I would strongly suggest applying to Github Copilot or OpenAI Codex access to check for yourself, avoiding cherry-picked examples on the internet (in good and in bad). Indeed, if you search online, you might run into outdated reviews, where it turns out that highlighted errors actually work now. If you cannot wait for beta access, I recommend asking a friend for a demo (I’m happy to showcase it to everyone), trying genji python or reading this up-to-date review.

More generally, programmers should seriously consider learning prompt engineering to avoid being left behind, and, I believe, any future forecast about AI progress should include this shorter loop between deep learning models and programmer productivity.