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IBM wants to use AI to upgrade COBOL

by on11 December 2023

Before the COBOL cowboys die out

Biggish blue has a cunning plan to use AI to convert COBOL code into something a little more modern.

More than three trillion dollars’ worth of transactions are handled by COBOL code which has never been changed because it worked well. The only problem with the 64-year-old programming language is that hardly anybody knows anymore and most schools don't teach mainframe programming.

Most of the  "COBOL cowboys" are retiring and replacements are in short supply.

IBM has built a generative AI-powered code assistant (watsonx) that helps convert all that dusty old COBOL code to a more modern language, thereby saving coders countless hours of reprogramming. It allows programmers to take a chunk of COBOL and enlist watsonx to transform it into Java.

It Biggish Blue has to sit down with the customer and understand the application landscape, the data flow, and the existing dependencies.

IBM's Vice President of Product Management, IT Automation, Keri Olson said that involved breaking it down into smaller pieces, which the customer can selectively choose, at that point, to do the modernisation from COBOL to Java.

Once the ground rules have been sorted out, the AI says: “Okay, I want to transform this portion of code.” the developer may still need to edit the code that the AI provides. "It might be 80 or 90 per cent of what they need, but it still requires a couple of changes. It's a productivity enhancement — not a developer replacement activity."

Last modified on 11 December 2023
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