Assistance Oriented Programming

Here’s a simple SQL query:

SELECT,, p.age FROM person AS p

It’s a reasonable syntax for a simple operation. But, when Microsoft designed LINQ, they decided to put the datasource first:

from p in person select new {,, p.age }

LINQ was designed knowing that it would be used in Visual Studio, and so Microsoft made it easy for the IDE to autocomplete. If you tell it the datasource first, it will know the possible fields when you type dot.

The obj.member syntax predates modern IDE autocomplete. Even SQL is using it in the above example. The innovation in LINQ is getting the object name and type into scope before you need to access any fields.

So, as I continue to play with GitHub Copilot, I wonder if its widespread adoption will spur on language features that are designed to make better use of it.

One thing holding back that innovation is that Copilot needs to have a giant corpus of examples. If you make a new language, then Copilot can’t really help you write it. And if the main reason to use it is that it can be more easily assisted, then it can’t get off the ground. One way to get around that is to generate a corpus if the new language is a simple transformation of an existing one.

A more likely scenario is that programming style adapts to be more easily assisted. We see from the LINQ example that we want to get names and types known as quickly as possible. This will help AI assisted programming as well, but even better is getting your intent in the code as early as possible.

Two ways we signal intent in programming is with names and with comments. To get assistance, you should use good names. I notice that the quality of the suggestions is based on the names I use.

I’m torn about what will happen with comments. Comments that describe code aren’t worth keeping, but may result in good suggestions. Hopefully, most programmers won’t leave those comments in.

I wonder how good Copilot can do with comments that are more declarative. And if it’s good at it, will a loose, declarative, pseudocode that is embedded in comments become the de facto Assistance Oriented Programming Language I’m looking for?