Robotic Pair Programmers

If search engines ever get eclipsed, I think it will be by something in the environment that just brings things to your attention when you need them. I want this most when I code, like a pair programmer that just tells me stuff I need to know at exactly the right time.

When I’m in Xcode, there are so many times when I need information I don’t have. To get that information, I need to initiate a search. It breaks my flow to do this.

What I want is that information to just be in the environment.

One way this already happens with with code comments. In my source, I trust all of the editors, so I would like to see all of their comments and commit messages. This is actually possible if I turn on the Authors sidebar in Xcode.

But, what more could I get? Let’s say I index every Xcode project in GitHub, every iOS tutorial, every iOS question in Stack Overflow. Could that be distilled somehow and then shown to me at the right time?

One way that seems fruitful to me is rare API calls. There will be times when I am using an API that appears very infrequently in the corpus or my own repositories. In that case, it should infer that I probably need more help than usual and offer up a tutorial or the top Stack Overflow questions.

Another trigger might be my new comments. If I comment before I code, then it should be interpreted as a search query:

// Parse the JSON I get back from the data task

That should bring up links to likely API classes in the help pane (just like it would if I already knew the class). Maybe offer up imports to auto-add. Maybe offer a snippet. In Xcode it would be similar to the auto-suggested fixes for compiler errors.

This is just the beginning, and we can do a lot more. Whatever we do, we need to make sure that nearly every suggestion is useful, because we risk knocking the developer out of flow. Conserving flow should be the driver for how this works.