You might already be feeling the looming dread of tax time, but this year, the task could be a little less daunting thanks to Watson, IBM's versatile artificial intelligence system. IBM is teaming up with tax firm H&R Block to set the system loose on the colossal amount of data involved in tax preparation, which should help it uncover more deductions and make the whole process a little less horrible.
Ever hungry for data, Watson makes use of machine learning algorithms to mull over more information than a human brain can handle, finding connections between disparate data points that we mere mortals may miss. In the past, the system has been used as a debate partner, nurse, kitchen assistant, and even a film trailer director.
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Now its turning its attention to the US federal tax code, which contains over 74,000 pages of information, and the thousands of changes made to tax law every year. Staying on top of all that is a daunting task for a tax professional – let alone the average joe filing their tax paperwork – but Watson will be right at home in that environment.
"IBM has shown how complex, data-rich industries such as healthcare, retail and education are being transformed through the use of Watson," says David Kenny, senior vice president of IBM Watson. "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."
Watson was trained to understand the complexities of the tax system by being fed thousands of questions and answers about the return filing process. H&R staff can then call on the cloud-based Watson to analyze a client's paperwork, drawing connections and finding deductions and credits that might otherwise be missed. The human touch still plays a part, with the consultant looking for other benefits, and the client watching along on a dedicated screen designed to keep them in the loop about what's happening.
As usual with neural network AI systems, the more data Watson is fed about the tax code, the better it will become at finding deductions in the future, so IBM and H&R Block will continue to train the system to be better every year. Watson will be put to work in about 10,000 H&R Block retail branches across the US from February 5.
The heads of IBM and H&R Block discuss the collaboration in the video below.