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H&R Block Will Use IBM’s Watson to Help Quiz Clients About Their Taxes

Posted February 2nd 2017

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via The Verge

Artificial intelligence is slowly seeping into more and more areas of white-collar work. The latest crossover is between tax preparation firm H&R Block and IBM’s Watson, with the former using IBM’s AI chops to help quiz clients about their tax liabilities.

When a customer visits H&R Block to prepare their returns, software powered by IBM will ask questions about their year — looking for big events like selling a house or buying shares that might introduce tax-deductibles. It’s a standard part of H&R Block’s service, but the company hopes that by feeding Watson this data (along with answers provided by human tax preparers), they can improve performance across the board.

H&R Block’s George Gaustello told The Verge that the idea is to share expertise around the company. “We have 70,000 experts, but let’s say 500 of those are very knowledgeable about firefighters, or they know every credit deduction a farmer can get,” Gaustello tells The Verge. That information then becomes part of Watson, which offers its own suggestions during interview, “making our experts even smarter,” he says.

 

These trials are the beginning of a multi-year partnership, and the hope is that Watson will only get smarter as its services are more widely used. This general trend of AI stepping into white collar industries like taxes, insurance and basic legal work is increasing productivity but also leading to humans losing their jobs in some instances. While H&R Block prizes its level of human expertise, “if Watson begins to provide the expertise that H&R Block envisions, it seems natural the company might demand less expertise from its humans,” writes The Verge’s James Vincent.