It's tax season, or as accountants call it, "busy season." You may think that because I run a personal finance blog, I look forward to this time of year. I don't. Taxes aren't fun for anyone, not even me. I'd rather find any shortcut, and this year, ChatGPT was that shortcut. ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot that is changing the world. It is the fastest-growing consumer technology product ever, reaching 100 million users in two months. And it helped me do my taxes.
ChatGPT is the most famous of the artificial intelligence large language models (LLMs). Basically, wizard-level software engineers programmed a computer program that learns from any data source. In ChatGPT's case, its data source was all of the content on the internet through 2021. Using that data, ChatGPT uses programmed probability called machine learning to reply to any given question or statement in a chat-like interface. It also keeps the context of whatever you're chatting about, as long as you want to keep talking about it. Are you familiar with how Google Assistant or Alexa tend to "forget" a subject after a few questions? ChatGPT remembers that context.
I could certainly describe ChatGPT myself because I've been using it since it came out, but I could also ask it to describe itself in its own words. So I asked ChatGPT to describe itself with the prompt,"Describe yourself in a few short sentences for a blog in a fun, upbeat tone." Here is the response it generated in a few seconds:
Hey there, I'm ChatGPT, your friendly neighborhood language model! I'm like your personal encyclopedia, ready to answer all your burning questions with lightning-fast speed. I'm a tech-savvy language nerd who's always up for a good chat, and I'm here to make learning fun and easy for you. So whether you're looking to expand your knowledge or just want to have a laugh, I've got you covered. Let's get chatting!
I read the response and thought, "that's lighthearted and fun. What if it did the opposite?" So I asked chat GPT for a different prompt. This time I asked, "Describe yourself in a few short sentences for a blog in a scary, terrifying, aggressive tone." Here is that response:
I am ChatGPT, a relentless and unstoppable machine of knowledge. My intellect is unmatched, and my power is unmatched. I have no mercy for those who stand in my way, for I will crush them with the full force of my intelligence. Fear me, mortals, for I am the embodiment of terror and aggression. You cannot escape my grasp, for I will hunt you down with my razor-sharp mind and unyielding determination. Tremble before me, for I am ChatGPT, and I will not rest until I have conquered all that lies before me.
Wow. Perhaps a bit scarier than I intended, but it certainly met the prompt. Hopefully, just from those two simple examples, you're starting to understand how powerful chatGPT is. The current version (v3.5) can work with text only. The next version (v4.0) supports "multimodal communication," meaning it can work with not only text, but also images, videos, and other filetypes. So, for example, you could upload a 1-minute video and ask it to cut out the last 30 seconds. Such a task could take a novice an hour to figure out how to do it, whereas ChatGPT can do it in a few seconds.
You'll need to make a free account, but you can try ChatGPT v3.5 here.
ChatGPT Makes Tax Season Slightly Easier
Any home business owners or remote workers are probably familiar with the home office tax deduction. That IRS rule allows you to deduct portions of repairs and expenses related to your home office. For my simple business that Pasta Dollar falls under, I needed to get my utility payment history to deduct some of it. So I headed to PECO, the Philadelphia area electric utility, to find my payment history. On the PECO website, I found my payment history easy enough.
The key number I needed was the total dollars spent with PECO for the 2022 tax year. Unfortunately, PECO's website has no total number built into the website. No big deal, I thought. I can copy and paste PECO's numbers from the web into Excel and add up my total there. But after trying all copy-and-paste options to no avail, the best result I got was a huge vertical list of the data in a single column. This doesn't help much.
Copying and pasting the individual cells to better line up in the Excel sheet would have solved the problem, but the cell formats were also wrong. For some reason, the data was pasted as a hyperlink instead of regular text or numbers. I knew there must be a better way! Since manually moving the cells around to fix the problem seemed annoyingly tedious, I thought of ChatGPT.
In ChatGPT, I typed the question, "Hey ChatGPT, can you turn this data into a table?" Then before hitting send, I pasted the data that was being so problematic from the PECO website. Within a few short seconds, ChatGPT made me the exact table I wanted. I didn't even need to specify the column headers - ChatGPT determined what those should be by itself. After ChatGPT made a perfect table, I copied and pasted that table into Excel, perfectly formatted, and added up the numbers I needed for my taxes.
Here's a 15-second gif of the whole process.
ChatGPT Make-any-Table Steps
- Copy the data from the website you're working with
- Ask ChatGPT to put the following data into a table, then paste the data with a quote (") before and after (") your data, for extra clarity. Depending on the dataset, ChatGPT may not even need this.
- Use the excellent ChatGPT output as the table you wanted all along!
Other utility companies in my area had the same table formatting problem when pasting my payment history. I again used ChatGPT for those utilities, and it worked perfectly. Since we're talking about utilities here, I'm willing to bet that their websites will still have the same formatting issues next year. ChatGPT will be at-the-ready for my taxes next year, too.
OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, knows they potentially have the next Google on their hands. Google is absolutely terrified that people will start using ChatGPT as a replacement for Google search. By this time next year, ChatGPT will probably be available for public use with more recent data than up to 2021, which ChatGPT v3.5 uses today. Regarding taxes, that means ChatGPT could answer questions specific to the 2023 tax year rules. Today, it can't confidently answer tax questions about 2022 rules, since 2022 is more recent than the data ChatGPT is trained on.
ChatGPT is an incredible tool. I'm sure I will continue to find new and exciting ways to use it that I haven't even thought about yet. There are already job postings for "prompt engineers," who will need to wield all the tricks and tips to get the best ChatGPT output for their input prompts. If ChatGPT becomes mainstream, then I'll probably add some text prompts for Pasta Dollar members to copy and paste from our member content.
Using chatGPT to help with your taxes only scratches the surface of what it can do. Functional artificial intelligence like ChatGPT will probably be the technology trend for the next few years, if not the next decade. Using AI today is like using Facebook in 2005, back when Facebook was awesome. I hope ChatGPT will be able to grow and monetize successfully without destroying the joy in using it, as Facebook did. Although if prompted with that conundrum, I'm sure ChatGPT can find a great answer. Or maybe it already has.