These days, you can’t read a news website or look at social media without seeing references to artificial intelligence. Stories range from the doom-laden to the wildly optimistic when it comes to AI’s effect on humanity, but down the middle there’s a path of reasonable, useful information that can help us in the here and now.
As website developers, we are naturally interested in the impact AI might have on our own field. In fact, we wrote a piece on ChatGPT just the other week, detailing how it has a role in web design. But a question we see popping up on the various channels we follow is this: can you design a website using just AI?
The answer is, of course, yes. You can design a website, an airplane, a city or a work of art using AI. Whether it will be exactly fit for purpose is another matter, though. If you’re happy taking to the skies in that AI-designed, 3D-printed airplane, good luck to you, but for now at least, we’re sticking to our Boeings and Airbuses.
OK, that’s quite a simplistic response. But it does show the gulf between what’s technically possible and where we are right now.
We instinctively know that aircraft design is all about identifying a role and then throwing a hundred years of aeronautical, safety and economic knowledge into the mix. It will then go through years of modelling, wind tunnel testing, fail-safe design and flight tests to arrive at a viable model, with unintended consequences ironed out.
A website, on the other hand, is far less likely to cause a disaster if it goes wrong. That means you can feed a series of requirements into an AI engine and it will come back with a set of code that fulfils your basic needs. Best of all, it can do this in a matter of seconds, so if you don’t like the results, you can hit the button and try again, and again. You can also refine your instructions to add or remove elements until you reach a site that you like. At that point you can upload the site and you’re good to go.
All that is possible right now, for sure.
We have to say, however, that we don’t know of any professional websites that have been designed completely using AI. While AI is getting better and is constantly learning new skills from the vast amount of data it’s learning, it’s not at the point where it can replace human programmers just yet.
What it can do, however, is come up with elegant solutions to individual coding problems, and it’s remarkably good at it. But you’ll still need a human to put the site through its “wind tunnel” and “flight testing” phases, and make adjustments needed to keep it functional, human-friendly and secure.
The role of the web developer has changed over the years, particularly thanks to open source solutions like WordPress, which remove the need to painstakingly go through every line of code, and instead focus on visual design, functionality and UX.
In the medium term, we can see AI performing a similar role, but ultimately any website will have to pass the human test before it is released into the wild. In addition, the quality of AI output will always depend upon the quality of queries and instructions given to it, and that’s a skill that humans will need to pick up.
AI is definitely going to revolutionise web development. However, all such technologies have a habit of creating new opportunities for human input that keep things sensible, creative and usable.