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Devin Might Be Fake, Yet AI’s Threat to Jobs Is Real.

Devin Might Be Fake, Yet AI's Threat to Jobs Is Real.Photo from Unsplash

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On Tuesday, Cognition Labs, based in San Francisco, unveiled Devin, an AI software engineer, eliciting astonishment from the public. The team behind Devin claims it can autonomously finish entire coding projects using its integrated shell, code editor, and web browser. They further assert that Devin has successfully executed real assignments on Upwork, a popular platform for freelancers all over the world. To substantiate their claims, they present impressive data: Devin purportedly solves 13.86% of programming challenges unassisted. This marks a significant advancement over other leading models, such as Claude 2, which resolves just 1.96% of tasks unassisted and 4.80% with aid (i.e., when told exactly which files to edit).

Although dozens of news outlets picked up Devin’s story, at this point the possibility can’t be excluded that the demo has been tampered with and the actual software does not deliver the promised performance (see below). Nevertheless, the emergence of AI software engineering is undeniable, and it is only a question of time until single applications can independently manage entire projects.Source: Cognition Labs

While a “success rate” of approximately 13%, as claimed by Devin’s developers, might seem innocent on first sight, considering the rapid evolution of AI technologies, it is clear where this is going. Tools like Devin could soon handle the majority of programming duties, potentially rendering vast segments of the workforce obsolete. Software developers and programmers are responding with a blend of job loss anxiety and gallows humor to the demo.

However, upon closer examination, discrepancies in the Devin-preview and the demo videos, along with questions about Cognition Lab’s legitimacy and expertise have sparked speculation that Devin might be a nothing more than an elaborate investment scam. A look at their LinkedIn reveals that Cognition Labs, which claims to outperform some of the biggest players in AI automatization, was founded only months ago and counts less than 10 employees. It is unclear how such a small team could have achieved such a giant leap in such a short time. Hence, until the software is publicly released and proves its outstanding capabilities to be real, I shall remain skeptical of this particular application.

Why Freelancing Isn’t Dead (Yet)

The rise of AI will certainly impact the lives and careers of many freelancers, from voice artists to coders. Looking back at more than a decade as a freelance copywriter myself, I can say I haven’t seen a year as crazy as the last 12 months, with clients’ requests and needs performing a 180° turn more than once (or twice). A look at message boards reveals that many freelancers are having trouble finding work and are losing long-time clients left and right. The mood is gloomy, as many are struggling but hesitant to reorient themselves, fearing that AI will acquire whatever skills they aim for faster than they can.

This is a valid concern. I do believe that there will always be some need for work that carries a ‘human touch’—e.g., in copywriting, performing well in a niche requires cultural knowledge, experience, and an ability to relate to people in a way that an LLM can pretend, but not fully achieve. However, to me, it is also crystal clear that we can count the days until LLMs and other AI solutions are capable of taking care of 95% of tasks formerly performed by highly trained professionals.

But at least in the short to mid-term, I argue that freelance work in copywriting, coding, sales, illustrating, etc., is not dead. All these industries are still adjusting to the AI revolution, and developments progress faster than they can keep up with. As professionals, we must fill this gap and become the interface between a client’s requirements, state-of-the-art tech solutions, and our own expertise. This way, AI becomes an augmentation of our work, not a replacement.

Of course, the overall reduction of work hours required to realize a project will be an issue and put pressure on the job market. Economically, how we deal with AI is one of the biggest questions of this century, and chances are our discussion can’t keep pace with developments. Freelancers, however, should not throw in the towel yet. Every industry changes, and as experts/professionals, it’s our job to keep up with those changes, adapt, and acquire new skills if necessary. Admittedly, change has never been this rapid before, and it is only natural to feel overwhelmed. But with the right attitude and a proactive approach towards the new tools popping up around us, it will be possible to adjust and grow through these unprecedented times.

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