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IBM's Watson will help you file your taxes

A team-up with H&R Block will use AI to make the most of your deductions.
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Sergey Yechikov/Alamy

Tax experts can find deductions that you might otherwise miss, but they're only human -- they can only find so many potential savings, let alone paint a larger picture of your finances. They're about to get a helping hand, though. IBM is partnering with H&R Block to make Watson a part of the tax filing process at locations across the US starting on February 6th. After you participate in an initial interview, the artificial intelligence will offer suggestions to Tax Pros (read: experts) looking for deductions, and illustrate the bigger picture for you on a dedicated client screen. Ideally, Watson's ability to understand context and intent will turn your statements into tangible data that leads to bigger tax breaks.

This doesn't guarantee that Watson will find dramatic savings. It's dependent on your input, so it won't know to go looking for deductions if you haven't at least suggested something. This is more about eliminating omissions (say, due to changes in tax law) and streamlining the experience than it is exploiting obscure parts of the tax code.

Having said this, the team-up is still in its "first phase." H&R Block hopes to use Watson in other areas of its business, and the cognitive computing system should improve as it masters the nuances of the tax system. You're still a long way off from having AI do all the heavy lifting when tax time comes, but this might make a big difference if you'd like help filing and want assurances that you'll get as large a return as possible.

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