Exploring the challenges and risks of AI in software development

The challenges and risks of AI in software development

The only change we can rely upon is change itself. The fact is new advancements are reshaping our world like never before. Every day, a new tool seems to introduce a wave of transformative tools and insights that would never have been imagined 10, 20, or even 30 years ago.

Among these advancements, artificial intelligence (AI) stands as a serious catalyst for change, playing a pivotal role in defining the crazy pace and omnidirectional pattern of this transformation. What was once the dreamworld of paperback Sci-Fi books is now a practical resource many businesses are integrating into everything from marketing analytics to maintaining employee time off requests. The projected 37.3% growth in AI integration from 2023 to 2030 is just the tip of the future iceberg.

Nowhere is this more game-changing than in software development. It seems like only a few keystrokes and waves of a mouse can lead to MVP apps and software suites ready for the marketplace. However, the truth is AI is still in its infancy, now more than ever.

The integration of AI in software development is not only introducing new possibilities but also raising stiff new challenges and dangerous risks. We cannot ignore how powerful AI is in developing new pathways and tools, but we must also maintain an open eye to the potential dangers. Understanding these risks is fundamental for all stakeholders as the AI landscape continues to evolve.

Whether you are building a custom “To-Do” app for Disney Enthusiasts or looking to streamline organic gardening with a powerful software program for seed management, there are risks to leveraging artificial intelligence in your process.

How is AI currently being used?

While we might not have an AI magic wand to instantly dissipate the spectrum of challenges we face in software development, the secret is to curate a competent professional team that can manage these emerging technologies effectively. In fact, AI promises to offer a plethora of opportunities and benefits that cater to each user. 

  • Bespoke Automation: Beyond the thrill of novel problem-solving and generating the 50th rendition of your favorite feline image for a new app, software development entails handling tedious, repetitive tasks. This is where AI shines, taking over these routine tasks and freeing up developers to focus on more exciting and high-value functions, like client engagement.
  • Code Generation: Tools empowered by AI can produce snippets, entire lines of code, and potentially lay the foundation for whole applications. Leveraging AI models that learn from large code datasets, the next steps of a development team can be predicted, thus speeding up the coding process.
  • Error Detection: AI has the capability to spot coding errors and bugs quicker than humans, often flagging them in real-time as the code is being written. While not a perfect solution, AI tools can enhance a development team's output by suggesting fixes or automatically correcting certain errors, thereby optimizing resource efficiency, and reducing time spent on debugging and testing.
  • Predictive Analytics: AI can delve into historical data from previous projects and forecast future outcomes. This might include predicting project timelines, pinpointing features likely to cause issues, or identifying parts of the codebase most in need of refactoring. With such valuable insight, teams can more effectively direct their time and resources to achieve an MVP release promptly.
  • Real-Time Support: AI chatbots and virtual assistants can provide instant support to both developers and users, answering queries, providing information, or aiding with tasks. Any effort to bridge the customer service gap is beneficial. While human intervention is crucial to improve these features further, it's an excellent start.
  • Project Management: AI can streamline software development projects by automating scheduling, tracking progress, predicting potential risks, and optimizing resources. Often, these AI enhancements stem from the global interconnectedness prompted by the pandemic, with teams needing to work collaboratively across different time zones and areas of expertise.

As you can see, significant improvements can be made by integrating powerful new tools. This rise in AI integration, which is expected to grow by 37.3% from 2023 to 2030, is massively transforming business adoption across all industries. To say that won’t affect modern developers is an understatement.

Why does this matter to software development?

AI has a profound impact on the software development industry. It's changing the very way applications are being built, personalized, and integrated into business processes.

AI applications are being developed using no-code/low-code and AI-assisted technologies. This ranges from code completion to predictive analytics for project management to anomaly detection for system monitoring and bugs.

Think about that for a moment. If a CEO of a fresh startup wants to create a generalized model of a new application, they can turn to AI tools using no-code frameworks. The challenge then becomes improving, personalizing, and customizing these outcomes.

AI is based on databases of information. If everyone uses the same data, then the products will all look the same. That is where customized software development is vital to standing out in the crowd.

McKinsey Global Institute's research underscores the significance of AI in software development by suggesting that by 2030, AI could deliver an additional global economic output of $13 trillion per year. This is echoed by CIO's State of the CIO 2023 report, which found that 34% of IT leaders say data and business analytics will drive most IT investment, and 26% said machine learning/artificial intelligence will drive the most IT investment. Simply put, business leaders recognize that integrating AI as part of their processes, customer touchpoints, or internal efficiencies will become a competitive advantage.

In fact, 9 in 10 organizations back AI to give them a competitive edge over rivals. With 64% of businesses expecting AI to increase productivity, it's clear that AI is the engine powering the software industry's future growth. The only question left is, “Are we moving too fast with AI in software development?” Do we need to slow down and consider the global impact of such swift adoption of new technologies?

ChatGPT

What are the risks of AI in software development?

As with any revolutionary technology, AI in software development is not without its challenges and risks. How does the saying go in economics? There is no such thing as a “free lunch?” The same is true for AI. As the many benefits become more apparent, so do the potential dangers. It is vital to recognize these issues to mitigate them effectively and harness AI's full potential responsibly.

Risk #1 - Ethical considerations

Let's begin with ethics. This isn't a word you often associate with software or technology, but it becomes a cornerstone when it comes to AI. After all, AI isn't merely a tool. This beautiful new resource can learn, decide, and act. These actions can impact individuals, communities, and even societies.

Take, for example, the notorious case of Amazon's AI recruiting tool. Since 2014, Amazon’s leadership has relied on new software to review thousands of applications they receive annually. That volume of data was too much for anyone to keep up with, especially one of the most lucrative companies in the world.

The problem was that this software used an AI that was entirely unethical for the situation. Amazon had to discontinue it after a year due to its biased behavior against female applicants. Around 60% of the candidates it selected were male, resulting from patterns the AI learned from historical data of Amazon’s recruitments. We must remember these tools are only as good as the teams that made them.

The issue wasn't just that the AI was biased. The real problem was that the AI's bias was unintentional, born from the data its fed. This raises fundamental questions about how we train AI, the kind of data we use, and the accidental biases we might be programming into these systems.

Establishing ethical guidelines for AI development is crucial to prevent discrimination, ensure fairness, and protect human rights. Developers, policymakers, ethicists, and society must come together to create these guidelines.

Risk #2 - Data security & privacy

AI apps often require access to user data to function effectively, which raises serious privacy and security concerns. Users are rightfully worried about who has access to their data, how it's used, and where it's stored.

As Adrian Volenik, founder of aigear.io, likes to say, “It is incredibly easy to disguise an AI app as a genuine product or service when in reality, it’s been put together in one afternoon with little or no oversite or care about the user’s privacy, security, or even anonymity.”

The problem here is access. While the data we use to fuel AI tools seems protected, the tools themselves are not. This can result in apps and software applications relying on incredibly sensitive materials without alerting the users, stakeholders, or even the dev team. This could expose private user information to anyone, nefarious or not, because of the swiftness we use AI tools. If you rely on one such device to craft a medical app, for example, without first protecting it against any potential medical record violations, you could end up with severe consequences.

As we enter the age of data governance, it's crucial for businesses to prioritize user privacy and data security in their AI applications. This includes having transparent data collection and use policies, implementing robust security measures, and complying with data protection regulations.

Risk #3 - Overdependence on new AI tech

Thirdly, overdependence on new AI technologies poses its own risks. A case in point is Roberto Mata's lawsuit against Colombian airline Avianca, where an AI system was used to support legal research.

This legal counsel decided to use AI tools that cited cases that didn't exist. When questioned by the judge hearing the case, it was discovered this strategy led to false claims. This incident underscored the limitations and unreliability of AI tools, emphasizing the critical need for human oversight. Imagine if a case is being decided for our safety and a judge doesn’t question the authenticity of the precedents being used. That could have massive implications for our society as a whole.

While AI can be a powerful tool, it's still just that - a tool. Overreliance on AI can lead to overlooking its shortcomings and potential risks. AI is not infallible. It's only as good as the data it's trained on and the algorithms it uses. Humans must continue playing an active role in the decision-making process, verifying AI's outputs and correcting errors.

Risk #4 - Poor understanding of context

AI models are trained on specific data and often struggle to understand the context outside their training data. This leads to flawed results, as demonstrated by a University of Cambridge research on using deep learning models for diagnosing COVID-19. The model, trained on a dataset that included scans of patients in different positions, ended up associating COVID-19 risk with the patient's status during scanning rather than actual medical indicators.

Issues like these highlight the risk of using AI tools that do not fully understand the context of the problem they're trying to solve. AI developers must therefore ensure their models are trained on comprehensive and diverse datasets and that the models are continually monitored and adjusted for real-world contexts.

Software development is almost always a framework for moving data. Even a simple video game's most basic user interface has underlying datasets that need to be integrated. Any time these datasets are based on information with the influence of human contextual elements, they risk being “less than proper” in practical use.

Risk #5 - Lack of creativity

AI models, while capable of mimicking human-like content generation, lack human creativity and intuition. For example, Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) can produce images similar to those it's been trained on. You’ve probably seen these images all over social media without even knowing it. What may appear like a beautiful swimsuit model from Norway is actually an AI-generated account trying to sell you more custom posters on Etsy.

However, these images often need help with intricate details and miss elements that humans easily catch. An AI-generated image of a person might have an incorrect number of fingers or other glaring mistakes that a human artist would never make.

Therefore, while AI can aid in content generation, it cannot replace human developers' creativity, intuition, and problem-solving abilities. That same principle applies to software development. The details of how your app or program is made and works cannot be duplicated by AI – not yet at least.

Risk #6 - Cost & accessibility

Lastly, the cost and accessibility of AI technologies can pose a significant barrier to businesses. Implementing AI software, particularly advanced solutions, can be expensive. For instance, Latitude, a startup that developed an AI-based game, saw expenses surge to nearly $200,000 a month as they had to pay OpenAI for AI usage and Amazon Web Services to process user queries.

This high cost can make AI technologies inaccessible for small businesses and startups, creating a divide between large corporations that can afford AI and smaller companies that cannot. As we progress with AI in software development, it's essential to make these technologies more affordable and accessible, ensuring a level playing field for all.

The goal should be to integrate and complement software development using AI, not to replace it so much that it eliminates the free movement of competition and startups.

Conclusion

The integration of AI in software development presents an exciting and challenging frontier. We can make the most of this transformative technology by acknowledging the potential risks and taking proactive steps to mitigate them.

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