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Artificial Intelligence might be a buzzword in the press – but it has real implications for technology jobs. So what do developers really think about AI?

  • Elon Musk warns of killer robots and describes AI as ‘humanity’s biggest existential threat’.
  • Meanwhile, Bill Gates is more optimistic – claiming, ‘AI can be our friend’ and allow society to do more with fewer resources.

As developers often work with AI and machine learning technologies, many people would assume that a clear picture is forming among the development community about the likely social impact of AI.

However, research by Stack Overflow sheds lights on what developers really think about AI – and it paints a split picture.

Are developers excited or worried about AI?

Developers are mainly excited about artificial intelligence.

  • Nearly three-quarters of developers feel more excited about the possibilities of AI than worry about its potential dangers.
  • Fewer than one in five developers are – on balance – worried about the dangers of AI.

It’s reassuring to see strong excitement about the potential benefits of artificial intelligence among the community who will develop and implement it the most.

artificial intelligence developers StackOverflow

Developers are divided on the dangers of AI

When it comes to identifying the potential dangers of AI, developers feel more divided.

Three-quarters of the votes cast were split between three potential dangers of AI – all of which relate to its potential intelligence and involvement in decision-making.

  • Fear of ‘algorithms making important decisions’ is the leading concern.
  • Fear of ‘AI surpassing human intelligence’ (‘the singularity’) is a fraction behind.
  • Just under a quarter fear of ‘evolving definitions of “fairness” in algorithmic versus human decisions’.

artificial intelligence developers StackOverflow

However, less than one in five fear ‘increasing automation of jobs’ – despite this being a popular press topic.

Developers at least seem to agree that the potential for AI to be involved in high-level decision-making is a potential cause for concern.

Developers are most excited about job automation

Over one-third of developers are most excited about AI’s potential to automate jobs.

artificial intelligence developers StackOverflow

While nearly one in five programmers fears the increasing automation of jobs, twice as many are excited about the benefits that automation could offer – less manual work, more tasks automated with AI-powered bots. Overall within a DevOps environment.

Nearly half the remaining votes were split between ‘algorithms making important decisions’ and ‘AI surpassing human intelligence’. Even developers are divided on whether job automation will be a net benefit or problem for society – which shows how unresolved this topic is in 2018.

Who is responsible for issues surrounding AI?

Developers are most likely to feel that it’s the creators of AI who should be responsible for any social issues it creates.

artificial intelligence developers StackOverflow

Nearly half of all developers feel that responsibility lies with AI developers and technologists.

Just over a quarter think a governmental or regulatory body should be responsible for keeping AI in check.

16.6% favored prominent industry leaders and 7.7% felt that nobody should be responsible.

As far as developers are concerned, the responsibility for AI seems split between its creators and government bodies – although twice as many favor creators.

What do developers think about AI overall?

Developers seem to broadly agree that AI is an exciting opportunity.

artificial intelligence developers StackOverflow

Job automation and the potential to hand decision-making to powerful algorithms offers huge potential benefits for society.

However, a significant number of developers feel that there are legitimate reasons to be concerned – even if the benefits outweigh them overall.

Ultimately, decisions will be made along the way to try and shape artificial intelligence and create safeguards in humanity’s favor. But disagreement remains over whether responsibility should rest with AI creators or government agencies.

Do you think the benefits of artificial intelligence outweigh the dangers?

Do you feel knowing more about AI will help you find a new job?

How do you think AI will affect your work?

All data extracted from StackOverflow Global Developer Hiring Landscape 2018.

Alex Napier Holland

Tech Business Writer