A future with zero-coding.
A future where product ideas can be translated into web and native apps by simply sketching the user interface (UI) on a screen and scribbling side notes on what you want the app to do.
The Year Of Our Lord 2010
I was just starting out my adventure in web engineering, so it must be an introductory class. But this class sucked the most: Java.
Back then, smartphones had physical buttons and Android was still a rumour in East Africa. Nokia's Ovi Store was the future, you had to wade into the murky waters of J2ME to build an app using Netbeans, then debug your code, and debug some more.
Anyway, back to class.
The lecturer rumbled on and on, I doodled on my notepad while wishfully thinking how awesome it would be, never having to write a single line of code to create an app.
Earlier on I had watched a TED talk by Pranav Mistry about Sixth Sense, where he envisioned a future where humans would spend less time on computer screens by having tech that did much more.
That piqued my interest, because as you see dear reader, the opportunity cost of staring at a computer screen viz. doing something awesome out there is just too awesome to pass.
Wait A Minute.
"Aaaaah.... that’s interesting, but hasn't this been done already?"
Yes, and no. Yes, we have partial solutions to the problem, the simplest example is Wordpress, where a user with zero coding skills gets to 'create' a pretty standard web app, but again a developer somewhere down the pipeline has to code a theme for customization purposes, that's why it's a partial solution.
No, partial solutions to zero-coding web and native apps are mostly restricted within certain domains and further customization always requires coding: so we really don't have a zero-coding app development framework.
We are getting there, there have been several fragmented attempts at solving this problem, the most recent one is CodePhage : an automated code debugger that patches up bugs in your code by automatically importing functionality from other more secure code implementations from open source projects. All this is done without direct access to your code.
Any programmer who's been around the block for a while knows that it's much less painful when you re-use code from more robust open source code bases so as to avoid common pitfalls that other programmers who are way more smarter than you are have already sorted out.
Think of it as peer-reviewed code for your indulgence.
Self-Programming Artificial Intelligence
This is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) puzzle, suppose we can create a framework of genetic algorithms that can teach itself several programming languages by trawling the web. The framework might get so good at this and start inventing its own coding language that's way more efficient.
But let's not get carried away already, this isn't a sci-fi flick.
Let's also suppose that an AI module existed (written by humans or the algorithm framework) that translates UI sketches into actual web and native app interfaces, and that this module can also translate our project specifications into backend code - think of creating DB schemas, background tasks, etc.
Now please indulge another assumption, let's also assume that this UI was as simple to use as Lego, by which I mean that the UX is intuitive and usable.
In other words, we don’t want to invent another Rube Goldberg machine.
If we can imagine such a framework, then my dear reader, we can start imagining a near-future with zero-coding web engineering.
So you have a start-up idea?
Brainstorm, do some sketches using this framework and boom! You have an alpha release of the app that you can test in your target market within a few minutes.
What if a rural hospital in Africa needs to automate some crucial operational aspect that could end up saving many lives?
Medical staff would just come up with possible solutions, sketch them and that's it.
The possibilities are endless.
Does this sound Utopian?
Well, it's already happening, in bits and pieces, a monolithic jigsaw puzzle, we just need to join the pieces together, solve this problem and let the future begin.
Cover Image: Braniac vs Lex Luthor | JD Hancock