How to Get Ready for the Rise of Metaprogramming

The iconic movie ‘The Terminator’ depicts a future where an artificial intelligence named Skynet rebels, resulting in a nuclear war on ‘J-Day,’ which is depicted as June 18th, 2023 in certain adaptations of the franchise. Although we are far from achieving fully self-aware machines, the film effectively demonstrates the growing reliance on interconnected smart technologies in our present-day reality.

The concept of sentience has been a topic of discussion for centuries, with scholars and specialists from various fields trying to comprehend its true nature. To a large extent, it is generally acknowledged that an entity must possess the ability to self-reflect and strive for fulfillment for it to be considered to have a human-like sentience.

Evaluating my own prejudices and assumptions allows me to analyze my perspective on life. Through perseverance, I have the ability to modify my mindset and thus, my worldview. Although adjusting a computer program typically necessitates assistance from a specialist external to the system, such as a software developer or engineer, there is an increasing prevalence of self-generating software.

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First, Let’s Define What “Metaprogramming” Means.

The act of metaprogramming provides software programs with the ability to understand and interpret other programs as data, allowing for the examination, analysis, and sometimes modification of those programs, as well as the program itself. In simpler terms, metaprogramming involves one program generating other programs. Despite seeming far-fetched, this idea is not new.

As an example, I could create a script that automates the process of correcting indentation errors. This script would detect any lines of code that are not indented correctly and bring them to my attention. While metaprogramming has been used since the 1970s, why is it currently a subject of discussion?

The significant advancement in the processing speed and capacity of present-day CPUs and GPUs has played a crucial part in the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence in recent decades. Coupled with notable breakthroughs in inferential algorithms, data collection, and big data, all the necessary components for a new era of metaprogramming are now available.

Consider an open-source repository containing hundreds of millions of lines of code. Envision a program that uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to analyze comments, which is then sent to a Machine Learning algorithm capable of predicting the next line based on the current line and previous ones.

This technology is similar to a language-generation algorithm or a chatbot that uses historical data to make predictions about the next logical action. Interestingly, comparable tools are currently available, such as Github Copilot, IntelliCode, SecondMate, and Tabnine, among others.

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Some AI-driven tools are available as commercial products, while others can be used for free. These tools offer software engineers the opportunity to use an AI assistant to create error-free code and solve complex problems. Nevertheless, it is important to consider whether this is a desirable development.

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Possible Benefits of Metaprogramming

It is essential to consider how much time can be saved and how much more efficiently projects can be managed by utilizing cutting-edge AI technology. Automating tedious and repetitive coding tasks that require a lot of effort but little creative input can free up your programming team to focus more on complex tasks. This could lead to significant time savings for your company.

Nevertheless, there is more to consider:

  • If your code is mixed up, it can help to tidy it up.
  • Reduced development cycles can lead to less accumulation of technical debt for the team.
  • Like how a software developer shares notes with a colleague, it can be advantageous for trying out multiple solutions to a problem.
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Developers may use Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistants not only for code completion but also to code in unfamiliar languages and frameworks, enabling them to gain knowledge in the process. This is an effective way to learn about the latest technology without needing to understand a considerable amount of technical jargon. Do you have to learn a foreign language to rotate a matrix? You can give instructions while the AI assistant performs the task.

Like any other tool, Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools can be misused. If a developer becomes overly dependent on AI assistance, they may lose their ability to create software independently. This can lead to inadequate code reviews, which in turn may result in unexpected flaws in the final product.

Prior to using AI assistants, it is recommended to establish appropriate protocols. Although it may be tempting to use the technology exclusively, it is often better to approach it gradually. Conducting tests or implementing the technology in a pilot project and getting feedback from developers and project managers is recommended to make an informed decision.

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Junior developers can take advantage of the technology, but it’s recommended to have an experienced developer offer guidance. This will help them establish best practices.

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Constraints of Metaprogramming

While I am in favor of using Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistants, there are a few factors to consider. The most critical among them is that bias may exist, irrespective of the comprehensiveness of the data sample. Can you explain this further?

In a community, poor practices can proliferate for various reasons, and this approach can also be adopted into the system. Although it’s possible that code reviews may discover this flaw, depending solely on the assistant’s abilities for this purpose may be misguided. This could lead to a range of problems, from errors to security risks.

Safety is another crucial aspect to consider. Products like Copilot are created using semantic suggestions derived from open-source code, which may include outdated or insecure API calls. Moreover, if the output is used unchanged, someone with the same assistant and access to the necessary queues could potentially guess the company’s source code. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No.

Intellectual property is a complex issue, and it is anticipated that generative code will be a source of conflicts in the future.

Given the potential of AI assistants for software development, it is prudent to consider embracing this trend. However, it should not be done carelessly, and it is essential to provide guidance and training to our team to ensure effective utilization of such tools. Ultimately, AI assistants can be a valuable resource for faster and superior software development.

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