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H&R Block is using artificial intelligence to help you do your taxes

Marielle Segarra Feb 6, 2017
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A view of IBM's Watson computing system at a press conference to discuss its appearance at a "Jeopardy!" competition back in 2011. 
Ben Hider/Getty Images

Tax preparer H&R Block has been losing ground to online tax software like Turbotax. Its answer: artificial intelligence. Starting this month, H&R Block’s tax preparers are using IBM’s computer system Watson to help them maximize deductions for customers.

The H&R Block experience is not going to change that much. You’ll still be sitting in a cubicle, talking to a person, but now that person will input your data into the Watson computer system.

George Guastello, vice president of product management at H&R Block, said that the client monitor will highlight those areas where the tax pro will want to dig further.

Watson can do that because it knows the thousands of pages of federal tax code and will be constantly learning.

Brian Uzzi, from the Kellogg School of Management, said that’s a big help for tax preparers.

“Watson would be like the second brain that would allow them to become familiar with and ask questions about tax code that they otherwise can’t commit to memory,” he said, “but may be able to offer the same services at a lower cost and on a larger scale.”

Which means H&R Block could potentially rival the services of a professional accountant.

Of course, there’s an even lower-cost option: Do your taxes on paper.

Correction (February 9, 2017): A previous version of this story misstated the name of the Kellogg School of Management. The text has been corrected.

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