IBM’s generative AI tool aims to refactor ancient COBOL code for its mainframes

Enlarge / COBOL 73, as seen (inside Windows) in the IRS’s Austin, Texas, offices in 2022. (credit: Washington Post / Getty Images)

There are hundreds of billions of lines of COBOL code running on production systems worldwide. That’s not ideal for a language over 60 years old and whose primary architects are mostly retired or dead.

IBM, eager to keep those legacy functions on its Z mainframe systems, wants that code rewritten in Java. It tried getting humans to do it a few years back, but now it has another idea. Yes, you guessed it: It’s putting AI on the job.

The IBM watsonx Code Assistant, slated to be available in Q4 this year, intends to keep humans in the mix, but with a push from generative AI in analyzing, refactoring, and testing the new object-oriented code. It’s not an all-or-nothing process, either, as IBM claims that watsonx-generated code should be interoperable with COBOL and certain Z mainframe functions.

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