IBM has announced the release of “watsonx“, a generative AI coding assistant, intended to mitigate the shortage of mainframe programmers knowledgeable in COBOL, a programming language initially designed in 1959. The initiative comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has amplified the difficulty of recruiting COBOL programmers, thus challenging an industry that relies heavily on mainframe computers underpinning roughly 70% of global banking transactions. Watsonx was initially introduced by IBM in August and is now moving to full availability.
Subheading: Translating COBOL to Java with Efficiency and Precision
Watsonx's focal feature streamlines the translation of COBOL codes into Java, a process intended to modernize mainframe computers. The AI assistant, according to IBM, promises exceptional accuracy in code translations, mitigating the possibility of syntax errors commonly encountered in the line-by-line translation process. To enhance the output's reliability, IBM plans to release an automated unit-testing tool that will facilitate the review of the instant code translations.
Understanding the COBOL Programming Language
COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) is a high-level programming language designed for business use. It is one of the oldest programming languages still in use today, having been first developed in the 1950s. COBOL is known for its readability and reliability, and it is still used in many critical business applications, such as banking, insurance, and healthcare.
COBOL is a compiled language, which means that the source code is converted into machine code before it can be executed. This makes COBOL programs relatively efficient and portable. COBOL also supports a variety of data types and file formats, making it suitable for a wide range of business applications.
IBM is Promising Innovative Performance
IBM built its Large Language Model (LLM)—the underlying technology of watsonx—by refining open-sourced base models from platforms like GitHub to meet the specific needs of mainframe computer modernization. When benchmarking watsonx against its counterparts, such as OpenAI's LLM-powered chatbot ChatGPT, IBM researchers discovered that watsonx outperformed ChatGPT in COBOL translation efficiency and accuracy. The AI assistant is also capable of filling in gaps between code and syntax errors in real time during translation, resulting in error-free COBOL translations, consequently named “JOBOL” by IBM.
This development from IBM signifies a watershed moment in mainframe computer modernization efforts, possibly eliminating impending developer shortages and eradication of mainframe computers' maintenance issues. IBM's watsonx could be the pivotal tool to modernize business infrastructure that has grown inherently reliant on mainframe computers.
An Era of AI Coding Tools
- A tool that got an equity investment from Microsoft is Builder.ai, an AI software firm that offers Natasha AI product manager through Microsoft Teams. Builder.ai and GitHub Copilot are two different types of AI-powered tools for software development. Builder.ai is a no-code platform that lets users make apps by picking from various templates and features, without writing any code.
- Google also partnered with Replit to offer Ghostwriter, an AI tool that helps developers write code. The partnership also gives Replit developers access to Google Cloud and vice versa. Moreover, Google brought code generation and debugging to its Bard AI chatbot. Users can write their coding questions or requests in natural language, and Bard will generate multiple drafts of possible responses for them to pick from.
- In May, Meta introduced CodeCompose, an AI-powered tool that offers code suggestions for various languages including Python, as developers type in Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) like VS Code. The tool can utilize its understanding of the surrounding code to provide enhanced suggestions.
- Chinese company Baidu is also competing in this space with its own coding AI. Comate is compatible with mainstream Integrated Development Environment (IDE) frameworks and supports more than 30 programming languages, with a strong emphasis on C/C++, Python, and Java.
- In July, Stack Overflow introduced its OverflowAI coding assistant. OverflowAI is a web-based tool that allows users to input natural language queries and get code snippets generated by a deep learning model trained on millions of Stack Overflow posts and other sources. The platform supports various programming languages, such as Python, C#, Java, and SQL.
- Hugging Face has been positioning itself as a leader in the AI market and the company's SafeCoder reflects the ongoing success. Launched in August, the tool ensures that code remains within the Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) during both training and inference stages. The design of SafeCoder allows for on-premises deployment, giving enterprises ownership of their code, similar to a personalized GitHub Copilot.