OpenAI upgrades its natural language AI coder Codex and kicks off private beta


OpenAI's Codex AI turns plain english instructions into code.
Image Credits: OpenAI

OpenAI has already made some big changes to Codex, the AI-powered coding assistant the company announced last month. The system now accepts commands in plain English and outputs live, working code, letting someone build a game or web app without so much as naming a variable. A few lucky coders (and, one assumes, non-coders) will be able to kick the tires on this new Codex API in a free private beta.

Codex is best thought of as OpenAI’s versatile language engine, GPT-3, but trained only on code instead of ordinary written material. That lets it do things like complete lines of code or entire sections, but when it was announced it wasn’t really something a non-coder would be able to easily interact with.

That’s changed with this new API, which interprets ordinary, everyday requests like “make the ball bounce off the sides of the screen” or “download that data using the public API and sort it by date,” and puts out working code in one of a dozen languages.

I was treated to a live demo in which OpenAI co-founders Greg Brockman (CTO) and Wojciech Zaremba (Codex lead) built a simple game from scratch and explained what was going on behind the curtain.

“Programming is about having a vision and dividing it into chunks, then actually making code for those pieces,” Brockman explained. The intention with Codex is to let coders spend more time on the first part than the second. After all, a huge amount of code is duplicating or outright copying what others have done before — it can be creative, of course, but no one is going to exercise their imagination in doing basic things like deploying a web server for testing a bit of code. Brockman did just that with a simple line — “create a web page that says that” or some such.

OpenAI's Codex AI collects data and turns it into a live graph.
Image Credits: OpenAI

A second later there were a dozen lines of JavaScript doing just that in a totally standard way.

“This is the worst part of programming,” said Brockman. “I’ve written this kind of code probably a couple dozen times, and I always forget exactly how it works. I don’t know these APIs, and I don’t have to. You can just do the same things easier, with less keystrokes or interactions.”

Because Codex is trained on basically all the public code on GitHub, among other repositories, it’s aware of all the standard practices, the 50 or 100 times someone includes a web server, keyboard controls or object manipulations and animations in their code. And because the natural language side has all of GPT-3’s usual understanding, it gets when you say “make it smaller and crop it” and then “have its horizontal position controlled by the left and right arrow keys” you’re referring to the same “it.”

It also keeps its own work in mind, several kilobytes’ worth of coding context for itself — so it knows the naming conventions it must stick to, the existing bounds and requests, and other info that the user’s input would have implied.

It’s also aware of generalities embedded in the code corpus. For instance, when Brockman told it to “make the boulder fall from the sky,” the system didn’t ask what the “sky” is, even though it hadn’t been defined on the largely blank canvas. Not only did it have the boulder fall from the top of the screen, but the falling speed accelerated like an object normally would — because its best guess at what “falling” and “sky” mean from other uses and context.

OpenAI's Codex AI modifies a Word document according to simple instructions.
Image Credits: OpenAI

“We think it provides a new way to interact with existing software,” said Zaremba, who built a limited version of this for his PhD thesis years ago, while they demoed a Codex plug-in for Microsoft Word. Automation exists for many tasks in word processors, of course, but what if you get a weird formatting issue and you want to fix 100 different instances? Type “make all the text the same size and font, and make double spaces single” and it’ll do that, snipping out stray styles and picking the most likely size and font considered to be “normal.” Then type “make all the headings 24-point and bold” and it zooms through doing that, and so on.

It’s worth noting here that this sort of thing is convenient for many, but crucial to those who lack the ability to do these things due to things like disabilities. If you’re operating your word processor using voice commands or a joystick, being able to perform complex tasks like the above is extremely helpful. A blind coder, like anyone else, can patch together a standard public test server, but the process of skimming Stack Overflow, grabbing the best snippet, checking the syntax, changing the relevant variables and so on will almost certainly be a longer one.

And for those working within the confines of syntax and conventions handed down from on high, Codex can easily be made to reflect those by exposing the model to the documentation. Codex can also convert and port code from one language to another — much the same way a translation engine turns Spanish into French.

Brockman said that, as with GPT-3, they are only scratching the surface of what’s possible and are hoping to be surprised by what developers come up with (after all, OpenAI didn’t predict AI Dungeon). The beta will be private, like the one for GPT-3, but devs can apply and describe their project and the Codex team will review them for inclusion. Eventually the API will be a paid public one, but the timing and pricing are still to be determined on that.

Embodied AI, superintelligence and the master algorithm

More TechCrunch

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

3 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?