Will IBM’s Watson be an accountant killer?
It’s not easy being a Certified Public Accountant. Trust me, I know. The rules are always changing. Clients are demanding. Busy season seem to go on forever. The competition is tough. Oh, and now it’s about to get much tougher. It’s bad enough that we have to worry about other CPAs and big tax preparation firms. Now we’ve got to worry about IBM’s Watson.
Watson is, of course, the super computer that wins at Jeopardy, crushes experts in debates and performs the deepest of deep calculations. Now, according to this report in New Atlas, IBM is teaming up with H&R Block to incorporate Watson’s artificial intelligence technology at its more than 10,000 branch offices across the U.S.
I admit, knowing all of the 74,000 pages that make up the U.S. Federal tax code, let alone all the thousands of changes that happen every year, is kind of a daunting task, even for the smartest of CPAs. But for Watson, it’s a snap. Its machine-learning algorithm eats terabytes of data for breakfast. It can perform operations and information well in excess of what a human can do. For Watson, all that tax data is a walk in the park.
At least that’s what H&R Block and IBM are hoping.
“IBM has shown how complex, data-rich industries such as healthcare, retail and education are being transformed through the use of Watson,” David Kenny, senior vice president of IBM Watson said in the New Atlas report. “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.”
IBM techs trained the supercomputer by feeding it thousands of tax-related questions and answers so that the tax preparers at H&R Block can leverage its power to analyze client paperwork and dig up deductions and credits that otherwise could be missed. Human involvement will still be needed, if at least to facilitate the process. By using Watson, H&R Block hopes to come up with innovative and hard-to-discover legal ways to save their clients’ money on their taxes.
Will this be the ultimate CPA-killer? Probably not. Powerful computers may someday crunch the numbers. But my clients will always need an accountant around to complain to about their high taxes.