Stack Overflow uses generative AI to provide access to knowledge

Estimated read time 3 min read

For years, if you had questions about C pointers, JavaScript operators or how inheritance works in Python, your first destination was Stack Overflow. However, things have changed.

Some observers claim that Stack Overflow has lost about 35% of its traffic over the past year and a half. In an attempt to raise the bar, Stack Overflow is adding artificial intelligence (AI) to its offerings: OverflowAI.

Knowledge directly in the FDI

The company’s ambitious roadmap foresees the integration of generative AI in its public platform, Stack Overflow for Teams, and in new products. The goal is to bring the wealth of knowledge from more than 58 million questions and answers from the community directly into the workspaces of developers.

This process will take place by integrating OpenflowAI into the IDE via an extension in Visual Studio Code. This extension will pull validated content from the public platform and Stack Overflow for Teams instances.

It will provide a personalized summary of how programmers can solve problems, allow them to deepen if necessary and document new learnings and solutions. The real advantage of OverflowAI is to provide the information without the developer having to leave his IDE.

Of course, other similar extensions, like GitHub CoPilot, already exist. But in an interview, Prashanth Chandrasekar, CEO of Stack Overflow, considers Copilot as a complementary solution.

OpenFlow is complementary to Copilot

“Copilot would be a complementary solution. With OverflowAI, we can verify, validate, attribute and confirm the accuracy and reliability of the Stack Overflow community and its more than 58 million questions and answers.”

“One of the main obstacles to the adoption of AI is the confidence in the accuracy of the content generated by AI. Stack Overflow’s annual survey of 90,000 coders recently revealed that 77% of developers are in favor of AI tools, but only 42% of them trust the accuracy of these tools. OverflowAI was developed with the community at its core and with a focus on the accuracy of data and AI-generated content,” adds Prashanth Chandrasekar.

Behind the scenes, OverflowAI has updated the search capabilities of its platform. Until now, Stack Overflow has relied on lexical search, which connects users with questions and answers based on provided keywords.

Introduction of semantic search

However, the introduction of semantic search, based on a vector database, should make it possible to improve user queries.

Semantic vector search is based on words that are assigned a numerical value by machine learning (ML). Large language models, such as Generative Pre-trained Transformer 4 (GPT-4), use these values to determine the relationship between words. It is this approach that powers ChatGPT and many other generative AI chatbots. Today, Slack Overflow also uses this approach.

Stack Overflow also introduces GenAI Stack Exchange, a community focused on sharing knowledge about AI tools, and Stack Overflow’s Natural Language Processing (NLP) Collective, which includes a new feature called Discussions to discuss technical approaches to AI and ML, and to share points of view.

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