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    Meet AI001, Alibaba’s First AI Employee

    The AI-powered assistant, accessible to all employees as a plugin, is expected to write at least 20% of the company’s code in the future.

    Complete with an official employee ID (AI001) and a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality known as “the Architect,” Chinese tech giant Alibaba Cloud on Tuesday inducted its coding assistant, Tongyi Lingma, as the company’s first AI employee.

    The AI-powered assistant, which was also given a lanyard featuring a profile photo, work license, and resume, is accessible to all employees as a plugin. The company announced that it is mainly designed to assist with most programming tasks, such as writing code, optimization, debugging, and testing.

    The tech firm projects that Tongyi Lingma will write at least 20% of the company’s code in the future, potentially saving programmers hours of work otherwise spent on test code. An Alibaba member of staff stated: “But programmers are still the core of research and development. The AI will allow them more time to focus on system design and core business development work.”

    According to Alibaba, Tongyi Lingma is proficient in more than 200 programming languages, and excels in 16. Official testing showed that it is particularly capable in cross-file perception and adaptability to Alibaba Cloud’s work environment.

    Launched in October 2023, the AI is built on the Tongyi large language model by Alibaba Cloud and Tongyi Lab and has already surpassed 2 million downloads.

    Infoq, an online programming community, showed that while GitHub Copilot leads in usage among AI programming assistants in China, with a 64.5% rate, Tongyi Lingma stands out as the sole product with a usage rate exceeding 10% in the country, capturing 12.9% of the market.

    However, Tongyi Lingma isn’t China’s first AI-powered coding assistant.

    Baidu Comate, developed by search giant Baidu from its Ernie large language model and launched internally in April 2023, has already been adopted by over 80% of the firm’s engineers.

    Other entries like Racoon from SenseTime, known for its Chinese language capabilities, and Fitten Code by FittenTech, launched in 2023 and 2024, respectively, are both designed to translate natural language into code in a bid to ease the load for programmers while boosting productivity.

    Following Alibaba’s announcement, many on social media underscored that such AI tools could help alleviate the heavy workloads on developers. According to a 2023 report by the Chinese Software Developer Network (CSDN), over 60% of Chinese programmers work beyond the standard 40-hour week.

    Yet, the rapid adoption of AI assistants has sparked debates about the future of programming jobs. Baidu CEO Robin Li, in a March interview with state broadcaster CCTV, suggested that programmers might even become obsolete as AI capabilities expand. He said: “In the future, there will be no such profession as ‘programmer,’ because as long as you can speak, everyone will have the ability to be a programmer.”

    In March 2023, Goldman Sachs reported that generative AI — which can generate text, images, videos, or other data using generative models — could replace 300 million jobs globally, while He Jifeng, director of the Shanghai Academy of Artificial Intelligence Industrial Technology, suggested that up to 50% of professions could be phased out by AI between 2030 and 2060.

    Zhang Liaoyuan, the lead for Tongyi Lingma products, however, emphasized in an interview with domestic media that AI’s role will be limited to supporting developers with daily coding tasks and navigating technical challenges.

    Reiterating the central role of humans in the development process, he stated: “In the development process, humans are always the main body, and some work cannot be replaced by AI.”

    Contribution: Li Dongxu; editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: A promotional picture shows AI001s work badge of . From Weibo)