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IBM launches business oriented Coding Assistant watsonx

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a shortage of COBOL programmers for mainframe computers. It is a programming language designed in 1959 with business users in mind. IBM is a mainframe computer supplier with a modernization solution in mind.

IBM has released "watsonx", an AI-powered coding assistant with a focus on translating the COBOL codes in Java. According to its report, COBOL programmers are getting harder to find. Earlier this year, IBM paused hiring talents that are at risk of being replaced by AI.

The company may have announced this knowing it will launch the replacement, watsonx. It will enable developers to modernize mainframe computers that process an estimated 70% of global banking transactions. The generative AI coding assistant can translate code from COBOL to Java instantly and can be reviewed with an automated unit-testing tool to be released soon.

Key data about the technical preview:

  • Approximately 4,000 developers participated in the technical preview.
  • 85% overall average acceptance rate of the AI-generated content recommendations. (from July 27 – Oct 23, 2023, based on over 41,000 recommendations)
  • Productivity improvements in the range of 20-45%.

According to IBM, a Large Language Model (LLM) was tuned specifically on COBOL-Java programs for IBM Z. It open-sources base models from repositories like GitHub, sanitized and filtered to its specific needs.

When comparing between watsonx Code Assistant for IBM Z and ChatGPT (OpenAI’s LLM-powered chatbot), IBM researchers found that WCA for Z outperformed ChatGPT on COBOL translation. - IBM

It says watsonx creates error-free code translations. While other languages can be translated line by line, COBOL requires a unique approach to avoid syntax errors. “We know Cobol and Java on z/OS better than anyone,” said Richard Larin, product lead for IBM watsonx Code Assistant for Z.

The assistant can fill in gaps between code and syntax errors on the go while translating. This can create a "JOBOL" free COBOL translation. This effort at modernization can eliminate future developer crises and maintenance issues of old mainframe computers that are mission-critical.

Source: IBM

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