In Brief
  • Watson was originally seen as mostly a breakthrough medical tool but has since been used in a much wider range of applications, including retail
  • Even Geico currently uses IBM Watson, they use the AI program in 46 states to deliver a better digital experience to their customers

IBM understands the unique nature of its artificial intelligence (AI) software assistant Watson, and so they are not taking the direct consumer approach of Siri, Cortana, Alexa, or Google’s Assistant.

In partnership with H&R Block, Watson is being trained “on the language of taxes,” according to IBM’s press release announcing Watson’s new role as the world’s first AI tax preparation assistant.

“This is not magic,” H&R Block chief executive Bill Cobb said. “You have to teach Watson over time.” Cobb first contacted IBM last summer to ask for Watson’s help to “reinvent the retail experience for taxpayers.”

They gave Watson tax data, including 74,000 pages of the federal tax code, as well as thousands of tax-related questions from H&R Block accumulated over 60 years of preparation of tax returns. Watson also worked with H&R professionals to refine its ability to ask tax-related queries.

Last January, 100 H&R Block offices ran a trial of the Watson tax program, and Cobb was “very pleased” with the results. The program will be publicly available by next week in the company’s entire retail network.

This new partnership is a testament to how AI systems like Watson are becoming more beneficial in the corporate world. While Watson has previously been used to assist in cancer research, Watson has also worked in partnerships with Geico, Staples, and Macy’s to improve customer experience.