Remain Launches AI Chatbot to Assist with Development on RDi
May 17, 2023 Alex Woodie
Developers who code in Eclipse-based environments such as Rational Developer for i (RDi) now have access to Ai Chat, a free ChatGPT-based chatbot launched last month by Remain Software. According to Remain CTO Wim Jongman, the coding copilot displays the programming chops of a seasoned RPG developer.
The AI revolution continues to unfold at an unprecedented clip, driven in large part by large language models (LLMs) such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, and Facebook’s LLaMA, among others. Trained on massive corpuses of data culled from the Internet, these LLMs “learn” what words are likely to go with one another, and are able to generate fairly cogent responses to questions (or prompts) by predicting, one a time, which word is likely to go next.
In addition to learning English, these LLMs have learned just about every other language on the planet, including programming languages. Many software vendors, including Microsoft with its GitHub Copilot, have adopted LLMs to generate mainstream languages such as C, Java, and Python. But LLMs such as ChatGPT have also learned the syntaxes for more esoteric languages, including RPG and COBOL.
Remain Software is taking advantage of that language training with Ai Chat, which it launched three weeks ago at the COMMON POWERUp 2023 conference in Denver, Colorado. Available as freeware from GitHub, Ai Chat plugs into Eclipse-based integrated development environments, including RDi and Remain’s own MiWorkplace offering. The software leverages ChatGPT to provide contextual suggestions, code snippets, bug checking, and documentation proposals, Remain says.
Ai Chat can work with free-format RPG as well as COBOL, Jongman said. ChatGPT learned these languages by reading the IBM i menus and GitHub; Remain didn’t provide any additional training, he said. “It knows everything already,” Jongman said.
During a demo at POWERUp 2023, Jongman showed how users interact with an Ai Chat via menu that pops up on the RDi screen. The prompt is especially important when working with an AI bot, and so in this case, one prompts the model with the following sentence: “You are experienced RPG IV developer and you write your code in RPG Free.”
Every session must start with that prompt or one like it, Jongman said, “because it doesn’t really have a memory.” As one interacts with the tool, the conversational thread will grow bigger, and the tool will gain more context.
After starting with that prompt during the demo, Jongman proceeded to ask Ai Chat to generate a math service program in RPG. “So now I can say ‘Please write the procedure in RPG free,” he said. “It’s good to be very specific about what you want. The more you tell it, the more it will do.”
The service program generated by Ai Chat was solid and free of errors, Jongman said. That’s not always the case. “Sometimes it’s confused about the syntax,” he said. “But you can see the bulk of the code is already created.”
Ai Chat functions at an expert programmer level, said Jongman, who is an expert programmer himself and a contributor to the Eclipse project. When he asked Ai Chat to create a square root function, he was surprised when the bot asked him which square root method to use. “I didn’t even know there was a Babylonian method,” he said.
The idea for Ai Chat is to function as a co-programmer, or a copilot if you will. One can rely on the digital code-slinger to generate source code or just to provide contextual suggestions or code snippets, Remain says. It can also be used for bug checking to generate documentation for existing code, the company says.
Ai Chat works like a sidekick who’s always ready to provide some help with coding tasks, Jongman said. Compared to the traditional method of searching the Web for specific information, Ai Chat is much faster, he said.
“When you use Google, first you get 10 rows of advertisement,” he said. “Then you go to that website. No, no, it’s not what I’m looking for. It’s so frustrating to do that with Google. And with this, you just get straight away the answer to your specific use case, so it’s an enormous help.”
Remain is giving Ai Chat away for free on GitHub, although it’s not open source; Remain is maintaining control over the source. And while Ai Chat is free, using it is not free. Users must have their own ChatGPT account with OpenAI for Ai Chat to work. Every API request sent from Ai Chat to the ChatGPT server costs a certain number of tokens.
However, it’s not expensive. Remain had racked up an OpenAI bill of $0.35 for all the playing around that it’s done with the API.
For more information on Ai Chat, check out Remain’s product page or the GitHub page.
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Why would one use this instead of having ChatGPT open in a browser? Is this a version ‘trained’ for RPGLE development?