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Definition and Guide

AI code generation

AI code generation involves using software tools, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), to write computer code.

Table of Contents

  • What is AI Code Generation?
  • How does it work?
  • Tools AI Code Generation
  • AI vs Low Code Development
  • Benefits of AI Code Generation
  • AI Code Challenges

What is AI Code Generation?

AI code generation involves using software tools, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), to write computer code. Instead of manually typing out every line of code, a person gives the AI tool a description of what they want the code to do. 


The AI tool then employs advanced Language Models (LLMs) and Generative AI techniques to automatically suggest or produce code based on user-provided input specifying the desired functionality. While the code it comes up with might not be perfect, it gives developers a solid starting point, making it faster and easier to write code. 


This nifty technology not only helps experienced developers but also makes coding more accessible to everyone, regardless of skill level. It's like having a helpful coding assistant at your fingertips! 

How does AI Code Generation Work?

AI code generation operates on ML algorithms trained with existing source code, often sourced from open-source projects. This works through three primary methods:

  1. Autocomplete Feature:
    • Developers initiate code writing, and the AI tool attempts to autocomplete the code based on patterns learned from the training dataset.
  2. Natural Language Input:
    • Developers articulate intentions through natural language input, prompting the AI tool to generate code suggestions aligned with their objectives.
  3. Direct Interaction:
    • Developers engage in direct conversation with the AI using chat interface, issuing specific requests or bug-fixing commands, demonstrating the conversational capability of the technology.


Generative AI for coding owes its feasibility to recent advancements in Large Language Model (LLM) technologies and Natural Language Processing (NLP). Employing Deep Learning (DL) algorithms and extensive Neural Networks, these models undergo training on diverse datasets extracted from publicly accessible code repositories maintained by open-source projects.


Programmers input plain text prompts outlining the desired code functionality. Generative AI tools respond by suggesting code snippets or generating complete functions, streamlining the coding workflow by automating repetitive tasks and minimizing manual coding efforts. 


This technology further exhibits versatility by facilitating code writing in different programming languages, thereby expediting code creation. 


While the accuracy of code produced by Generative AI and LLM technologies continues to improve, it is imperative to acknowledge the potential for flaws. Consequently, code generated by these tools should undergo thorough review and refinement by human developers. 

Which tools can I use for AI Code Generation?

AI Code Generation tools are rapidly transforming the software development landscape. These intelligent assistants analyze your code in real-time, suggesting completions, snippets, and even entire functions based on your context and objectives. 


It's like having a coding Yoda whispering wisdom in your ear, guiding you through the jungle of possibilities. Here are some of the common tools that can assist with AI code generation, each offering unique features and capabilities:

GitHub Copilot:

  • Developed by GitHub in collaboration with OpenAI, Copilot is an AI-powered code completion tool that can seamlessly integrate into popular Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) like Visual Studio Code, offering context-aware code suggestions and completions as you type. 
  • It leverages OpenAI's Codex, a language model trained on diverse code repositories, to generate code suggestions as developers type. OpenAI Codex is most powerful in Python, but it is also capable in other languages including JavaScript, Go, Perl, PHP, Ruby, and TypeScript.

ChatGPT and GPT Models:

  • OpenAI's GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) models, including ChatGPT, can be fine-tuned for code generation tasks. While ChatGPT is not specifically designed for code generation, it can still be used for this purpose. 
  • Developers can interact with these models using natural language prompts to receive code snippets. Unlike GitHub Copilot, ChatGPT is not integrated with IDEs and has its own interface.

Amazon CodeWhisperer:

  • CodeWhisperer from Amazon is another AI-powered productivity tool that generates code suggestions ranging from snippets to full functions in the IDE based on your comments. 
  • It also supports CLI completions and natural-language-to-bash translation in the command line. 
  • CodeWhisper is optimized for AWS and hence a good code generation solution for AWS users.

Google AI Code Generation Tools:

  • Google has a couple of AI code generation tools, each with its own strengths and focus. 
  • Google's Gemini (formerly Bard), an LLM, is trained on an extensive dataset of text and code, enabling it to generate images, text, and code. It supports various programming languages such as C++, Go, Java, JavaScript, Python, and TypeScript. 
  • Google Cloud's Vertex AI that leverages Pathways Language Model 2 (PaLM 2) to generate text and code in response to conversational prompts. 
  • Additionally, Duet AI for Developers is an AI co-pilot powered by Google models that works in IDEs (like VS Code or PyCharm), offering real-time coding assistance similar to GitHub Copilot.

Code Llama:

  • Code Llama from Meta, an open source AI model based on Llama 2, is designed for generating and discussing code. It excels in coding tasks among publicly available LLMs. 
  • Code Llama aims to streamline developer workflows, ease learning for new coders, and enhance software robustness and documentation. Emphasizing an open approach to AI development, its release supports innovation and the creation of safe, responsible AI tools. 
  • It supports popular programming languages, including Python, C++, Java, PHP, Typescript (Javascript), C#, and more.

TabNine:

  • TabNine is an AI-powered auto completion tool that integrates with various code editors (IDEs) such as VS Code, IntelliJ, and Eclipse. 
  • Tabnine relies on a LLM that processes sequential data and produces responses based on the knowledge it has gained from its training data. 
  • It supports multiple programming languages such as JavaScript, Java, Python, TypeScript, PHP, and C++.


Factors to Consider When Choosing a Tool:

  • Programming languages supported: Ensure the tool supports the languages you use.
  • Integration with your IDE: Check for compatibility with your preferred development environment.
  • Features: Consider the specific features you need, such as code completion or natural language to code.
  • Pricing and availability: Explore pricing models and accessibility options.
  • Security and privacy: Understand how the tool handles your code and data. Evaluate the concerns about licensing, and copyright infringement.  


Remember, AI code generation is a powerful tool, but it's essential to use it responsibly, always reviewing and testing generated code before integrating it into your projects.

How does AI Code Generation differ from Low Code Development?

Generative AI and Low Code methodologies both offer rapid code generation, yet they operate on distinct principles. Low-code tools empower users to create applications through a visual interface, leveraging prebuilt components (templates, libraries), and automating much of the coding process. 


The underlying code remains concealed in the background. This approach significantly reduces the traditional coding workload, making app development more accessible to a broader range of users, including those with limited coding experience. 


In contrast, AI Code Generation using LLMs does not rely on templates or predefined libraries. Instead, it interprets plain language prompts from developers and generates code snippets from scratch, tailored to produce the desired outcomes.


While low-code and no-code tools primarily cater to non-developers and business users, AI code-generation software is more versatile. It is suitable for use by both professional developers and other users, providing a broader spectrum of individuals with the means to expedite code creation.


Benefits of AI Code Generation

A recent study by GitHub, the parent company of Copilot, revealed that the tool generated over 82 billion lines of code in its first year alone. Google AI researchers estimate that AI code generation could save developers up to 30% of their coding time. 


And the potential benefits extend far beyond mere speed. AI assistants can help in some of the following ways:

  • Instant Coding Support: AI plays a crucial role in delivering instant coding support, a feature that helps programmers navigate the intricacies of coding. In real-time, AI extends its capabilities to offer suggestions and generate code snippets—an invaluable aid for developers in their coding journey.
  • Boost developer productivity: By automating repetitive tasks like boilerplate code and bug fixes, AI frees developers to focus on higher-level problems and creative solutions.


Democratize software development: With AI assistance, individuals with less coding experience can build complex applications, potentially broadening the pool of talent and fostering innovation.

Challenges with AI Code Generation

However, embracing AI Code Generation currently comes with some challenges. A study by the Univerity of Melbourne raises concerns about the reliability and quality of ChatGPT-generated code, highlighting potential risks associated with its widespread use. As with any nascent technology, concerns linger around issues like:

  • Code Quality and Reliability: Can AI-generated code be trusted? Studies have shown that while generally reliable, AI assistants can sometimes produce buggy or insecure code, highlighting the need for rigorous code reviews. Research that looked at the code accuracy of Copilot generated code found that out of 164 problems tested, 47 (28.7%) were solved correctly, 84 (51.2%) were partially correct, and 33 (20.1%) were incorrect.
  • Maintainability: In an attempt to fulfill the developer's request or meet the required functionality, Generative AI may produce code that is more complex than necessary. This over-engineering can lead to unnecessary abstractions, excessive layers of code, or overly intricate logic. Complex and convoluted code structures may result, making future maintenance, debugging, and collaboration challenging. 
  • Risk of Technical Debt: Generative AI models can prioritize generating code that is syntactically correct but not necessarily optimized for quality, efficiency, or maintainability. This can lead to code that is harder to understand, modify, or extend, resulting in increased technical debt.
  • Loss of control: Some developers worry that relying too heavily on AI assistants could diminish their coding skills and expertise. The key, however, lies in viewing AI as a valuable tool, not a replacement for human judgment and critical thinking.


So, should you dive headfirst into the AI code generation pool? The answer is: cautiously optimistic. 


For companies and developers looking to adopt these tools, a strategic approach is essential. Here are some tips to ensure a smooth and successful integration:

  • Start small: Begin by experimenting with AI assistants for specific tasks or coding languages. This allows you to assess their effectiveness and identify potential pitfalls before implementing them across your entire workflow.
  • Prioritize code quality: Don't blindly accept AI-generated code. Implement robust testing and validation procedures to ensure the code is accurate, bug-free, and secure.
  • Upskill your workforce: Educate your developers on the strengths and limitations of AI assistants. Encourage them to use these tools as aids, not replacements, for their own expertise.


And this is where SonarQube, SonarLint, and SonarCloud step in as your AI code generation safety net. 


These powerful quality analysis tools seamlessly integrate with popular coding environments and CI/CD pipelines, providing in-depth insights into the quality, security, and maintainability of your code. They do this regardless of whether it was written by human hands or AI assistants. 


Additional Resources:

Learn more about how Sonar and AI Code Generation can work together