The Citizen Developer

Will AI Replace the Citizen Developer? Or Will TuringBots Be Yet Another Imitation Game?

Just when you thought it was safe to go out and create the applications you need yourself another page turns, another development emerges, and you get more fun confusion to contend with.

Given that we are an industry heavily laden with acronyms, I thought I’d begin with the overarching umbrella acronym that encompasses everything: AD&D (Application Development and Delivery). This is not to be confused with AT&T, the phone company, or with ADHD, the attention deficit hypertensive disorder many coders suffer from, or even the auto insurance industry’s AD&D which for them stands for Additional Death & Dismemberment. That’s most certainly not what we’re talking about here.

Enabling The Citizen Developer
As it became more and more difficult to find qualified people to develop applications using the various coding languages available, and agility became more and more key to business survival, several innovative developers created visual development platforms that required little or no code or coding capability. Cleverly referred to as “low-code/no-code” (LCNC) these platforms provided the foundation for what is now the Citizen Developer movement, with more and more companies moving their AD&D into the hands of the people who know the processes and will ultimately be the users of the resulting software.

Forrester Weighs In
In March 2021, IT industry analyst Forrester published a series of three blog posts entitled "Prepare for AI That Learns to Code Your Enterprise Applications." The authors of those posts (Diego Lo Giudice, Mike Gualtieri, and Jeffrey Hammond) point out that, although LCNC applications significantly reduce the cost of development, they still have to pass the "enterprise scaling test." That's still true, but the likelihood of passing that test and the process required to get LCNC applications that far has significantly improved.

The second post in the series ("Bots That Write Code Are Landing on Planet Earth") is the first to mention "TuringBots," a term coined by Forrester that refers to AI-powered software that can help developers and dev teams plan, design, build, test, and deploy application code. It cites early projects, including IBM’s AI for Code: Project CodeNet and Microsoft’s then-nascent GitHub Copilot, which Redmond humbly calls "the world’s most widely adopted AI developer tool."

TuringBots, a term that pay homage to British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, who was the subject of the 2014 film The Imitation Game, will use AI and machine learning (ML) to build models that "learn" from existing code and identify which code generator can meet the business applications and infrastructure requirements to generate and deliver source and executable code, the Forrester analysts explained. "Reinforcement learning seems a likely foundational technology for TuringBots," they added. "But various other AI foundational technologies are strong candidates, too: from deep learning models to GPT-3 to neuro-symbolic reasoning (and most likely a mix of all these)."

TuringBots were later featured in Forrester's industry trend report, The Top 10 Technology Trends of 2022. The authors wrote: "Enterprise TuringBots are an imaginary but realistic future we’re painting based on what we know today.” They then ask, “When do you think TuringBots are going to happen, and when you will start adopting them? In three years? Between three and five years? Within 10 years? Over 10 years? Or never?”

It Didn’t Take Long
Two years later, in another trend report (Generative AI TuringBots Win Again In Forrester’s Top 10 Emerging Technologies) Forrester declared, “TuringBots will disrupt the software development approach forever," and acknowledged that "Generative AI advances Turingbots maturity much faster than expected."

In this report, they projected that TuringBots would traverse three phases of development:

  • Phase I: TuringBots "in the loop" with humans still setting the goals and driving development.
  • Phase II: Humans and TuringBots achieve peer status.
  • Phase III: Autonomous TuringBots with human supervision

Video Killed the Radio Star
A September 2023 article in Forbes asks, "Will AI Kill the Low-Code Market?" and answers that question with a resounding “No!” betting that "AI will quickly evolve the low-code toolset and make the market grow faster."

The authors of that report found that "IT leaders are bullish on TuringBots increasing the number of workers participating in citizen developer programs," and that "TuringBots will inevitably make onboarding nontechnical workers as citizen developers better, faster, and easier." And also, that "Natural language will become a key low-code authoring experience." This fulfills the vision many conjure when first exposed to LCNC that they could just talk to the computer about what they need to accomplish and then watch it generate the applications they need. TuringBots hold the promise of making that vision a reality.

It Still Takes a (Digital) Village
In the midst of the development of TuringBots, in December 2022, Forrester chimed in again to expand upon its analysts' original vision. Despite a foreboding title, "Watch Out For TuringBots: A New Generation Of Software Development," this post launches into the most important statement most readers probably want to see: “No worries, and let’s be clear, if you are a designer, a developer, a tester, or even a product manager, AI software development TuringBots will not replace you, not in the near future nor in the medium one. But certainly, they will augment your capabilities and make you look and work smarter."

They foresaw, not only TuringBots, but several different types of TuringBots that will be required to cover all of AD&D completely:

  • Collaboration and Work Management TuringBot
  • Development Insight TuringBot
  • Analyze/Design TuringBot
  • Coder TuringBot
  • Tester TuringBot
  • Delivery TuringBot

Imagine becoming a Citizen Developer and having this all-star team as your starting lineup! Does it make you feel ready to "look and work smarter?"

About the Author

Technologist, creator of compelling content, and senior "resultant" Howard M. Cohen has been in the information technology industry for more than four decades. He has held senior executive positions in many of the top channel partner organizations and he currently writes for and about IT and the IT channel.