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IBM Watson’s artificial intelligence will assist H&R Block tax preparers

Kansas City-based H&R Block is rolling out a collaboration with IBM that will rely on computing power to help determine optimum credits and deductions on clients’ tax returns. A commercial for it will run during Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Kansas City-based H&R Block is rolling out a collaboration with IBM that will rely on computing power to help determine optimum credits and deductions on clients’ tax returns. A commercial for it will run during Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Kansas City-based H&R Block is rolling out a collaboration with IBM that will rely on computing power to help determine optimum credits and deductions on clients’ tax returns.

H&R Block and IBM fed the Watson computing system about 600 million tax return data points and “taught Watson the language of tax,” said Block spokesman Gene King.

Consumers will be introduced to the new service, called H&R Block with Watson, on Sunday in a commercial planned to air during the Super Bowl.

It will be H&R Block’s first Super Bowl commercial since 2009.

The two companies said the collaboration is the first time that Watson’s artificial intelligence has been applied to tax preparation. It allows Block’s preparers direct access to more tax code knowledge and suggestions for deductions than one preparer alone might know about.

The collaboration improves the client experience “by combining the human expertise, knowledge and judgment of our tax professionals with the cutting-edge computing power of Watson,” said H&R Block CEO Bill Cobb.

One feature of the new service allows H&R Block clients to follow along on computer screens as the preparer works through their returns. Customers will be able to see suggestions or questions posed by Watson based on its knowledge of the U.S. tax code and past returns.

“Watson will continue to learn and change along with the tax code and with each tax season” as more returns are uploaded into the system, King said.

H&R Block’s current television commercials feature actor Jon Hamm in a variety of roles, urging consumers to get their taxes “won.”

Kathy Collins, H&R Bock’s chief marketing and strategy officer, said Watson will help consumers “rethink their current tax preparation method and question whether they got back everything they deserved.”

The proprietary program will be available on in H&R Block retail locations beginning Sunday.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

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