AI Learns To Write Computer Code In ‘Stunning’ Advance

DeepMind’s new artificial intelligence system called AlphaCode was able to “achieve approximately human-level performance” in a programming competition. The findings have been published in the journal Science. Slashdot reader sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine:
AlphaCode’s creators focused on solving those difficult problems. Like the Codex researchers, they started by feeding a large language model many gigabytes of code from GitHub, just to familiarize it with coding syntax and conventions. Then, they trained it to translate problem descriptions into code, using thousands of problems collected from programming competitions. For example, a problem might ask for a program to determine the number of binary strings (sequences of zeroes and ones) of length n that don’t have any consecutive zeroes. When presented with a fresh problem, AlphaCode generates candidate code solutions (in Python or C++) and filters out the bad ones. But whereas researchers had previously used models like Codex to generate tens or hundreds of candidates, DeepMind had AlphaCode generate up to more than 1 million.

To filter them, AlphaCode first keeps only the 1% of programs that pass test cases that accompany problems. To further narrow the field, it clusters the keepers based on the similarity of their outputs to made-up inputs. Then, it submits programs from each cluster, one by one, starting with the largest cluster, until it alights on a successful one or reaches 10 submissions (about the maximum that humans submit in the competitions). Submitting from different clusters allows it to test a wide range of programming tactics. That’s the most innovative step in AlphaCode’s process, says Kevin Ellis, a computer scientist at Cornell University who works AI coding.

After training, AlphaCode solved about 34% of assigned problems, DeepMind reports this week in Science. (On similar benchmarks, Codex achieved single-digit-percentage success.) To further test its prowess, DeepMind entered AlphaCode into online coding competitions. In contests with at least 5000 participants, the system outperformed 45.7% of programmers. The researchers also compared its programs with those in its training database and found it did not duplicate large sections of code or logic. It generated something new — a creativity that surprised Ellis. The study notes the long-term risk of software that recursively improves itself. Some experts say such self-improvement could lead to a superintelligent AI that takes over the world. Although that scenario may seem remote, researchers still want the field of AI coding to institute guardrails, built-in checks and balances.

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