October 3, 2019
When AI comes to a particular business domain, it usually brings many positive changes. These are, among others, precise data processing, automation of complex tasks, and higher enterprise productivity.
But how do technological domains, such as web development, react to the arrival of AI? Does AI help web developers, or put their profession at risk? Are AI-based web solutions unconditionally good for end users, or do they have their downsides? Those are the questions answered in this article.
Two vectors of AI application in web development
Currently, AI for web development manifests in the following ways:
- AI for web development, where it fosters the process by facilitating developers’ activities and making end solutions more powerful and less prone to errors. It’s not about replacing web developers but about automating their repetitive tasks and helping them put more effort on complex creative challenges rather than hovering over mundane tasks, such as selecting colors.
- AI as part of web solutions, where software with embedded AI can improve user experience through personalized content, communication, and human-centric approach to choosing and getting products or services.
Now let’s discover the opportunities behind each of these vectors and analyze their benefits and disadvantages.
AI for web developers: gains and pains
All in all, there are four domains where AI can serve web development purposes effectively:
- AI-powered website building
- Machine learning algorithms for web development
- Web testing with AI-based tools
- Web development research through intelligent analytics
Website building. Intelligent website constructors are among the fastest-developing technologies that allow businesses and individuals to automate web design. Currently, several vendors offer their smart website builders in addition to their standard constructors. Wix with their Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence), Bookmark with AiDA (Artificial Intelligence Design Assistant), Jimdo Dolphin, The Grid, and Firedrop are among the brands on the market of AI-powered web templates.
Joker: Intelligent web design tools crawl across the internet, analyze competitors and design trends to generate a final website template optimized for the needs of a particular business. This can be a productive approach to web design that minimizes the risk of mistakes stemming from subjective web design tastes or poor knowledge of design. Once AI builds the website foundation, developers can switch to a standard builder to continue their site tuning.
Blocker: As the available tools are basically website builders, they imply uniformity. It means that the design they offer follows a certain template characteristic of a variety of websites across the web. What’s worse, the generated template can be hardly customizable once it is applied. For these reasons, AI web builders are more appropriate for individuals’ websites and small businesses and are not strong enough to design complex websites with various page styles and multiple page levels. Companies that look for a unique website can turn to AI tools to test different color schemes or page layouts, yet they will have to switch to custom web development anyway.
Machine learning algorithms. AI in web development goes far beyond templating. Web developers can leverage the power of AI to automate development and pack their web solutions with intelligent features. It is worth noting that intelligent automation mostly applies to front-end development at the moment, while back-end remains humans’ prerogative.
Developers can use ready-made tools, like pre-programmed bots, to generate UI elements (icons, buttons, or backgrounds) or use trained algorithms to design full layouts. Equipped with AI knowledge, developers can also create their custom algorithms to add sophisticated functionality to web apps. These can be automatically generated product descriptions on an ecommerce portal or a matching algorithm for a recommendation system in Python that identifies users with similar interests and preferences.
Joker: With AI, web developers can cut their time and effort spent on preparing content bits, visuals or even basic coding. For instance, using Microsoft’s Sketch2Code web developers can automatically transform any hand drawing into a well-functioning HTML code. Another experimental tool, Pix2Code uses deep learning to transform a single custom GUI screenshot into operating code with an almost 80% accuracy.
Blocker: When it comes to applying sophisticated machine learning techniques, web developers have to either expand their expertise or collaborate with AI developers. In any case, companies need to plan extra budgets on educating specialists or hiring new team members with relevant knowledge of machine learning technologies.
AI-fostered web testing. Another web development aspect that can be powered with AI is testing. Trained on historical data, AI testing tools can take up a variety of testing tasks and find inconsistencies and flows more accurately than humans do. AI testing tools not only detect bugs and vulnerabilities but also check software against hundreds and thousands of scenarios, which would take a huge amount of time if performed by testers.
Joker: Automating testing routines with AI can be a great relief for web developers in general. First of all, developers will be able to find flaws faster and fix them immediately. Secondly, companies will be able to save some investments on hiring or involving testing specialists to check on customized software.
DocuSign was one of the companies reaping these benefits by applying Microsoft Security Risk Detection, an AI-based fuzz testing tool. The company leveraged the AI testing capabilities to ensure the security of their multiple web apps. “The key benefit is that we were able to automatically run millions of test cases across multiple virtual machines, entirely automated, with no extra work needed from us beyond the initial setup,” says John Heasman, Senior Director of Software Security at DocuSign.
Blocker: At the moment, there is no all-round AI testing solution that could address the entirety of testing challenges. That’s why when a company needs in-depth testing coupled with QA and security audit, it is impossible to make without human professionals. In this context, AI tools can be testers’ assistants that reduce the workload in particular testing areas (for example, load testing).
Intelligent research. Finally, AI is what enables web developers to make the right decisions during development. No more gut feeling while choosing a color palette or finding the right place to embed a CTA button—only objective data and thorough analysis across competitors backed with success stories, best practices, and key web development trends.
As always, web specialists can start with ready-to-use tools. For example, Adobe Sensei allows developing the design that end users will definitely like by analyzing customers’ profiles. Another example of AI in action is GoDaddy’s algorithm that uses predictive analytics to help businesses choose the most high-value and cost-effective domain names for their websites.
Joker: AI opens up a path toward thoughtful web development that relies on the best practices aggregated globally. AI solutions enable web designers and developers to save effort and time needed to analyze competitors’ approaches and discover techniques that work best for a chosen audience.
Blocker: It’s hard to find any downsides of AI-powered analytics. The only one is extra investment needed and associated deployment or integration costs. To stay on the safe side, companies should choose their intelligent analytical toolkit wisely and foresee their use scenarios to minimize implementation risks.
AI web development from end user perspective
The approaches and solutions described above are targeted at web developers as they allow them to optimize their work, make better decisions and create effective solutions.
At the same time, there is another layer of AI web solutions, the one targeted at end users. This can include intelligent search, chatbots, adaptive interfaces, recommendation engines or anticipatory design, and more.
All in all, user-centric AI in web development comes down to three essential aspects of the final solution that should:
- Attract users’ attention and be aesthetically catchy
- Offer personalized and human-centric user experience
- Contribute to effective sales or meet users’ demands (for example, for finding information).
AI-fostered web development allows hitting all of these goals if applied correctly. As there are many advantages of AI that users come across while dealing with web solutions, let’s try to sum them up.
Joker: AI helps users to address their needs faster. Say, when customers come to an AI-enabled e-commerce site, they can find products more quickly, explore them in detail, and complete an assisted purchase. This is a win-win solution for retailers and their customers. The former can expect improved customer loyalty, higher sales, expanded audience, and as a result, increased revenues. The latter can benefit from AI and spend less effort on previously time-consuming and complicated customer journeys.
Blocker: AI is still a very young and extremely complex domain, so building a workable solution is still very difficult. Even if companies use ready-made tools, they can still end up failing. In this case, AI can affect both end users’ experience and the company’s reputation. For example, chatbots notoriously go awry and confuse visitors instead of helping them. This is exactly what happened with Tommy Hilfiger’s chatbot that turned to be obsessively intrusive once a user decided to quit the shopping session.
It means that companies have to be very vigilant with the AI solutions they implement and monitor their performance constantly to ensure their correct operation.
AI web development is a game changer
It is still too early to say that AI has become the everyday reality in web development, but it will keep on changing the domain in the coming years. Today, there are multiple AI tools assisting both web professionals and end users, as well as enormous opportunities for custom AI-powered web development. Yet, many of those technologies are still in their trial stage.
At the same time, nobody can deny that AI has been transforming the web development sphere. So sooner or later all companies that deal with web technologies will have to test AI waters. From the business perspective, it means that companies should sort out their AI strategies and consider the ways of inscribing AI into their web development projects. Businesses will also have to consider additional investment in upgrading their web developers’ AI knowledge or in hiring AI specialists with relevant web development skills.
From the end user perspective, it means adapting to the new tools offered to them on the web while voicing their feedback and helping development companies improve their solutions constantly.
Yaroslav Kuflinski is an AI/ML Observer at Iflexion. He has profound experience in IT and keeps up to date on the latest AI/ML research. Yaroslav focuses on AI and ML as tools to solve complex business problems and maximize operations.