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Self-Fixing and Auto-Code with AI: Debating the Pros and Cons

May 10, 2023

Recently, a developer created a “regenerative” AI program called Wolverine that fixes bugs on the fly. Here at Pluralsight, we gathered up some of our resident tech experts — Mattias Andersson, Lars Klint, and Jeremy Morgan — and chatted about whether or not having scripts that fix themselves is a super neat idea or whether or not this could be a risky practice. We also talk about "autonomous" AI agents that use GPT-4 outputs to perform tasks, like AutoGPT and BabyAGI.

Jeremy Morgan

Jeremy Morgan

Jeremy Morgan is on a mission to help developers get better at what they do. He's a Senior Developer Evangelist for Pluralsight, and has two decades of experience as an engineer building software and some of it even turned out pretty useable.

Superpowers: Writing code in multiple languages, wrangling Linux servers into submission, and saying "that's really interesting" a lot while debugging.


Lars Klint

Lars Klint

Lars is an Azure instructor with A Cloud Guru, author, trainer, Microsoft MVP, community leader, aspiring Microsoft Azure expert and part time classic car collector. He is heavily involved in the space of cloud computing services, especially Azure, and is a published author, solution architect and writer for numerous publications

Superpowers: Apprentice Lego builder, llama wrangler, home automation magician.


Mattias Andersson

Mattias Andersson

Mattias Andersson is a Principal Developer Advocate at Pluralsight (and previously with A Cloud Guru). An expert at both Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services, Mattias's passion for continuous learning and sharing his success and failures has helped train hundreds of thousands of cloud engineers.

Superpowers: Multi-cloud proficiency, always adding accessible analogies and making many meaningful metaphors.


PS Content Team: These days, you can’t seem to open the news without hearing about someone using GPT-4 in some strange, new way. People have started experimenting with using AI to fix code, not just on-demand, but automatically, and re-running until that code is fixed. What do you think about this type of “self-fixing” or “regenerative” code? Could it replace the QA process?

Mattias: Well, my immediate thought is that it’s going to work until it blows up! I could imagine someone saying “I don’t need to get people to debug this”, which is sort of like putting a brick on the accelerator pedal, which only works until your car goes in a ditch. 

If you’ve got an AI changing the code until it runs, it’s not fixing the true bugs, but just the syntax errors that are crashing the thing. And that’s the main part of software development, digging into the root cause. A syntax error can be valuable to help you figure out the true error, but you might well have made the mistake somewhere else, not just there. After all, what if the AI decides the best way to fix the problem is to simply comment out the problematic code?

Lars: I think it sounds great for fixing actual compilation errors, but unless it has context around business use cases, it’s going to be limited. For example, there might be an error where it doesn’t let you refund someone 1000 dollars instead of 5 dollars, and you might not want that to happen as a business use case, but the AI who’s fixing the code might not know that.

Mattias: Yeah, that’s a good example. The AI might determine the solution is to disable the error message, and that’ll "fix" the code, but it won’t do the right thing. That’s what I mean by things being full bore into a brick wall.

Lars: There’s especially cases in software development where you throw errors as a way of catching these types of business logic errors, it’s best practice. You’re throwing errors like “this number is too big” for the number of students that should be in a class. It serves as a notification for that kind of issue, and if you just “fix” that, that’s a problem. I’m sure technology will come to a point where it can accommodate for that, but we’re not quite there yet.

PS Content Team: What about if the AI tells you what errors it’s fixed, and gives you the option to approve it? I believe Wolverine, the recently released program that fixes Python programs, tells you what it’s “fixed.” Does the ability to review make a difference, and would you use self-fixing code then?

Jeremy: Yeah, that sounds like something I’d use.

Mattias: If it’s giving me things I can review, that’s something I’d potentially use. That makes me more productive, and is different from things going into production without review. That would be like allowing an intern to work on your code without review, which is dumb. The whole point is to have appropriate checks and balances. 

Jeremy: You shouldn't ever have anything going into production on its own. Humans shouldn’t edit code in production, though they sometimes do! The same is true for AI, it's not special.

Lars: I’d absolutely use it, but like the others, I wouldn’t let it roam free in production. I’d treat it like a code review by a team member. And whatever you review can help inform and teach that model, so it’s valuable for improving its ability to help you.

PS Content Team: What do you think about "autonomous" AI agents that look GPT-4 outputs, like AutoGPT and BabyAGI, that iteratively complete complex tasks? Do you think there's business risk or opportunity there? How mature does this technology sound?

Lars: Automation has always been the holy grail of most software development, and autonomous AI agents are another step in the process. As mentioned before, the risk is the lack of context. Unless you feed the model/agent with enough information to understand nuances and edge cases, the autonomy can result in an output that just isn't what you really wanted. Maturity is just not there yet in my opinion, but as with anything AI that might come quick.

PS Content Team: How do you feel about prompt engineers, people who are creating code entirely from ChatGPT? Do you think this will result in cargo cult programming, where they produce code they don't understand, then struggle to bugfix?

Lars: I am in two minds. On the one hand I am all for any technology that gets more people interested in programming and coding. With creating the code using a LLM, you will get people that then want to understand more and learn. On the other hand, you are asking machines to create other machines, and any bugs are unlikely to be syntactical, but rather semantical. That could result in some very skewed applications that aren't fully understood.

PS Content Team: Any other thoughts about the implications of self-healing code, or AI-assisted programming in general? Do you think there are any other risks or opportunities worth talking about?

Jeremy: I think it could introduce bias in some cases. I once had a boss who could be very nitpicky with his code. When I built code and he’d reviewed it, people would recognise it, and go “This is one Bob’s worked on, isn’t it?” And they knew that because it was elaborate and overdesigned. He was influencing us, making it more elaborate than it needed to be. AI can certainly influence and introduce bias into your code, whether you know it or not. It might move things towards a certain direction that might be common, but not necessarily correct.

It’s sort of like a game of Telephone, right? In that game, if you asked “What did George say”, Google would go around and write down what everyone says, then check its notebook, and tell you the answer. But ChatGPT writes down what everyone said from every game of Telephone, and then guesses what George said based on what he’d said playing Telephone 10,000 times. And because of that, it gets things wrong.

Lars: AI is not going anywhere, and it is enabling a lot more people to do even more clever things faster. With it comes both risks and opportunities, and the most exciting thing is that we don't quite know yet where it will all end up.

Still figuring out this ChatGPT business?

If you're still wondering what the fuss about ChatGPT and Generative AI, and how you can take advantage of it, check out our course: "ChatGPT and Generative AI: The Big Picture." In it, Amber Israelsen provides a short introduction into the basics of generative AI, how it works, and how to apply ChatGPT to real-world problems.