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AI ascendant: Is this the invasion of the tax robots?

At first, it sounds like a science fiction scenario: computers doing taxes for other computers, namely the robots who have taken human jobs.

Consider, however, the two tech trends we will report on in this post.

The first trend is the acceleration of advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation affecting employment. Yesterday Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner and tech-company investor, echoed concerns from Stephen Hawking and others about the impact of tech on the availability of jobs for humans.

It isn't only that every-smarter machines are displacing humans in manufacturing jobs. The development of driverless car technology could displace millions more - and do so far sooner than society is currently prepared to handle.

After all, driving motor vehicles is perhaps the single most common job there is today. But if self-driving vehicles continue to advance, millions of people would be looking for new work - work that might not be there.

With the existence of so many jobs for humans threatened by robotic intelligence, some tech industry advocates for humanity have therefore put forward the idea of a basic income that would a universal right.

Robotics has advanced so fast that Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder and philanthropist, suggested last week the income generated by robots who take the jobs of human workers should be tasked.

If that were to happen, there is an increasingly intelligent machine ready to do the taxes. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that IBM's automated-intelligence creation, Watson, will be helping tax professionals at H&R Block offices across the country to file tax returns.

Watson has been programmed with all 74,000 pages of the Internal Revenue Code, as well as voluminous information on tax questions from H&R Block's internal database.

For now, Watson will merely assist, not displace tax professionals. The trend lines, however, continue to turn science fiction into fact.

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