Microsoft just showed how artificial intelligence could find its way into many software applications--by writing code on the fly. At the Microsoft Build developer conference today, the company's chief technology officer, Kevin Scott, demonstrated an AI helper for the game Minecraft. The non-player character within the game is powered by the same machine learning technology Microsoft has been testing for auto-generating software code. The feat hints at how recent advances in AI could change personal computing in years to come by replacing interfaces that you tap, type, and click to navigate into interfaces that you simply have a conversation with. The Minecraft agent responds appropriately to typed commands by converting them into working code behind the scenes using the software API for the game.
Ever since Ada Lovelace, a polymath often considered the first computer programmer, proposed in 1843 using holes punched into cards to solve mathematical equations on a never-built mechanical computer, software developers have been translating their solutions to problems into step-by-step instructions that computers can understand. Today, AI-powered software development tools are allowing people to build software solutions using the same language that they use when they talk to other people. These AI-powered tools translate natural language into the programming languages that computers understand. "That allows you, as a developer, to have an intent to accomplish something in your head that you can express in natural language and this technology translates it into code that achieves the intent you have," Scott said. "That's a fundamentally different way of thinking about development than we've had since the beginning of software."
One of the more intriguing technologies demonstrated at this week's Microsoft Build conference was OpenAI Codex, a machine learning model that translates natural language into code "across more than a dozen programming languages." In a keynote presentation entitled "The Future of AI Development Tools," Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott said that "Codex lets us use natural language to express our intentions, and the machine takes on the responsibility of translating those intentions into code." You heard that right: the machine does the coding for you! This could be the beginning of a paradigm shift in programming. It certainly takes the low-code trend to another level, because now you can (potentially) use AI software to talk an app into existence.
In late June of 2021, GitHub launched a'technical preview' of what they termed GitHub Copilot, described as an'AI pair programmer which helps you write better code'. Quite predictably, responses to this announcement varied from glee at the glorious arrival of our code-generating AI overlords, to dismay and predictions of doom and gloom as before long companies would be firing software developers en-masse. As is usually the case with such controversial topics, neither of these extremes are even remotely close to the truth. In fact, the OpenAI Codex machine learning model which underlies GitHub's Copilot is derived from OpenAI's GPT-3 natural language model, and features many of the same stumbles and gaffes which GTP-3 has. So if Codex and with it Copilot isn't everything it's cracked up to be, what is the big deal, and why show it at all?
The foundational technology powering new AI coding assistants and other next-gen offerings based on natural language models is going to become an Azure cloud service. Microsoft announced the new Azure OpenAI Service during this week's Ignite 2021 tech event. It's based on GPT-3, an autoregressive language model that produces human-like text by leveraging deep learning, a machine learning construct that imitates the way people gain certain types of knowledge. GPT-3 comes from Microsoft partner OpenAI, an AI research and development company. The GPT-3 language model has been put to many uses, including no-code natural language software development in Power Apps, Microsoft's low-code development offering. Microsoft has a license to infuse GPT-3 technology into its products.