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IBM’s Watson Program Is Helping H&R Block Do People’s Taxes

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IBM Watson
IBM Watson logo (Andrew Spear for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

 

Now that IBM’s Watson AI program has won Jeopardy and helped doctors diagnose cancer, it’s moving on to something even more difficult: figuring out your taxes.

Watson has already been farmed out to Geico, Staples, and Macy’s to improve their customer service, which is part of IBM’s push to fully commercialize (and therefore monetize) the software. Taxes, though, are much more complicated, and are considered a more stringent test of Watson’s faculties.

Specifically, Watson will be deployed to H&R Block, acting as a “virtual assistant” to the company’s 70,000+ tax preparers, analyzing client paperwork for as many deductions and credits as it can find.

IBM Watson
H&R Block CEO Bill Cobb (left) and IBM SVP David Kenny (right) announced that H&R Block’s tax professionals at approximately 10,000 branch offices across the U.S. will use a new, consumer-facing technology that incorporates IBM Watson – the largest deployment of Watson in retail locations. (Guerin Blask)

 

“IBM has shown how complex, data-rich industries such as healthcare, retail and education are being transformed through the use of Watson,” IBM Watson senior VP David Kenny said. “Now with H&R Block, we’re applying the power of cognitive computing in an entirely new way that everyone can relate to and benefit from – the tax prep process.”

More than that, the company is trying to make Watson the default brand of artificial intelligence, in part to capitalize on an emerging market and in part to make up for shortfalls in IBM’s previous strongholds. It’s a tall order, but Watson’s increased learning speed and IBM’s improved communication have already shown some promise.

And while there are worries that Watson’s move into tax preparation will endanger CPA jobs, people have been trying (and largely failing) to understand the US tax code for generations. We might as well give computers a shot at it.

IBM made a Super Bowl ad starring Jon Hamm to promote the partnership; scroll down to watch it.

 

RealClearLife Staff