The deadline for filing tax returns in the United States is April 15, so many people in the US are already in the process of filing their taxes at the time of this comic's publication. Traditionally, people used tax provider companies, but it is becoming more popular to use tax preparation software, such as TurboTax or a service from the Free File Alliance, which helps to fill in the tax forms after a user enters their income information and deductions for the year.
In this comic, Cueball has attempted to train an artificial neural net to prepare his US tax return, but it has made several comical errors, purportedly because it was not trained extensively enough. Most of the errors consist of malapropisms, words that sound almost the same but mean very different things switched for comic effect. This suggests Cueball trained the neural net by talking to it.
The title "Tax AI" can be considered a pun, either referencing the AI software Cueball just trained to prepare his tax return, or an exhortation to tax AI entities, as a possible slogan supporting Robot tax.
The title text references 2173: Trained a Neural Net, which indicates that getting a human to do something is basically using a "pretrained neural net". Cueball has chosen to use a local tax provider to help him file his taxes, aka a "pretrained neural net" in the form of a human named Greg.
Randall also "trained" humans to do his tax returns in 1566: Board Game. Tax returns and the troubles of filling them out were also the subjects of 1971: Personal Data and 1977: Paperwork.
Types of errors
- "claim up to 1040 defendants": typically, taxpayers may claim "dependents" (not "defendants", persons being sued or accused of crimes) to deduct a certain amount of money from their taxable income, which is intended to represent money used for their care. Dependents include children, wards, elderly parents, and others for whom the taxpayer is the primary caregiver, so 1040 would be an absurdly high number. Form 1040 is the number of the primary tax document that must be filed in the United States.
- "seitan local income tax" is a reference to "state and local income tax" which can be deducted from federal income taxes in the US. Most states in the United States have income taxes that must be prepared separately, but some do not. In English, seitan is another name for wheat gluten, used in vegetarian or vegan dishes. This is most likely a byproduct of the AI mishearing "state and" as "seitan".
- "fiscal year 20202": presumably the neural net got carried away with 2's and 0's in 2020. However, at the date the comic was published, Cueball should be filing his 2019 taxes anyway. Alternately, the comic could be place in the future and it took the way most people will speak the year 2022 ("twenty twenty-two") and then transferred this directly to numbers ("20" "20" "2" becoming 20202).
- "standard deduckling" : the "standard deduction", which is what many taxpayers opt to do rather than attempting to itemize their deductions. The standard deduction is based on filing status and typically increases each year.
- "atomizing" his "clams": instead of "itemizing his claims" which, as mentioned above, wouldn't make sense if he was taking the standard deduction anyway. Itemized deductions means to "itemize" or list individual deductions, such as charitable donations, medical expenses, mortgage interest payments, etc. Choosing to itemize deductions may lead to a greater deduction, but requires more effort and supporting documentation, in case of a tax audit.
- [Cueball is sitting, hands on his knees, in his office chair at his desk reading a message on the screen of his laptop. The message is shown above the laptop an is indicated to be on the screen with a zigzag line starting at a starburst on the screen.]
- Laptop: You may claim up to 1040 defendants on your seitan local income tax for fiscal year 20202 by taking the standard deduckling and atomizing your clams.
- [Caption below the panel:]
- I used a neural net to prepare my tax returns, but I think I cut off its training too early.
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Could "atomizing" be a pun on "amortizing" as opposed to "itemizing"? 18.104.22.168 17:44, 7 February 2020 (UTC)
I thought 20202 could be a reference to February 2020 in YYYYM format, but the explanation provided is better.Kev (talk) 17:53, 7 February 2020 (UTC)
Anyone else want to go out to lunch for wheat clams? Anyone? Okay, I'll just have these to myself... ChessCake (talk) 18:38, 7 February 2020 (UTC)
Is "a really friendly pretrained neural net" a reference to a human tax preparer? 22.214.171.124 19:17, 7 February 2020 (UTC)
Yes, I think "a really friendly pretrained neural net" is a reference to comic 2173.Dromaeosaur (talk) 19:45, 7 February 2020 (UTC)
I laugh a lot at anything to do with Tax Returns. PAYE works well enough for me (not having any particularly complicated incomes and expenditures to argue over, either way) and I'm glad I'm not forced to do several days of such work for the government, each year, in return for a zero or even negative effective hourly rate... 126.96.36.199 23:45, 7 February 2020 (UTC)
- Unfortunately, here in the US, even with withholding from paychecks, the numbers never come out right due to dependents and exemptions, so a tax return is needed. Using a website, mine takes me about a half hour a year. There's nothing like watching the government inaction.
- (Previous unsigned bullet-point from 188.8.131.52 being replied to by 184.108.40.206 again, from somewhere slightly different on the subnet mask.) Given how it seems to be "a thing", all the cultural references about makes your situation sounds like a exception or recent redevelopment of the situation. For me tax codes deal straight with the major fuss. Dependents aren't an issue for me anyway; but while our system has problems, the paperwork itself doesn't seem to be an annual rigmorole to maintain. Still, it seems there's an ocean between me and thee, in several senses, so forgive me my possibly misplaced amusement. 220.127.116.11 23:43, 9 February 2020 (UTC)
- Another way to look at it is as if the tax return software is a gambling video game, with the score being the amount of tax paid or the refund due. The rules change every year so it is a matter of playing with the deductions until you are comfortable with the balance between audit risk and money returned.Seebert (talk) 14:52, 10 February 2020 (UTC)
Might the title-text be Randall in this case?
18.104.22.168 16:45, 9 February 2020 (UTC)
Randall has trained others to do his taxes before in 1566: Board Game - Currently I am not sure HOW to introduce that to the explanation/Trivia, but wanted to make aware of it. --Lupo (talk) 07:46, 10 February 2020 (UTC)
From a European perspective, the following is unclear: "The deadline for filing tax returns in the United States is April 15, so many people in the US are beginning the process of filing their taxes at the time of this comic's publication.". Why does April 15 mean you have to begin filing now? If I'm gonna bake a cake in two months, I don't have to buy ingredients now, I can do that a couple days before I will bake the cake. Is there another reason that better explains why the comic was made? 22.214.171.124 09:18, 10 February 2020 (UTC)
- The reason many people file earlier than the April 15 deadline is because the amount they paid in taxes throughout the year is more than the amount owed per the tax return, so they will get a refund of part of the amount they paid. If you're getting money back, you're going to file as soon as possible and not wait until April 15. If you have to pay taxes on the return, you will probably wait until the deadline. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 15:17, 10 February 2020 (UTC)
- I understand that. I do the same with my German tax returns: Do them as early as possible, to get some money back. But the april deadline still gives no indication that people should be beginning doing this work on February 7th. Why not on January 1st? The date of the comic is arbitrary and has no relation to the 15th of April in my view. If there is a connection it needs to be explained. --Lupo (talk) 07:37, 11 February 2020 (UTC)
- Employers in the US are normally required to provide summary income and payment forms (Form W-2 and variations of Form 1099, for example) by January 31 of each year. Until the taxpayer has their forms, they can't file their taxes. Copies of the forms are sent to both the government and the taxpayer, and mismatched numbers tend to raise the probability of an audit.126.96.36.199 19:06, 12 February 2020 (UTC)
- That sound much more like a reason to start in early February, than the reason that was given about the deadline being in mid april. However I have already edited that line, so I do not see a need to add this information. Do so however if you feel it would be beneficial to understanding the comic. --Lupo (talk) 07:35, 13 February 2020 (UTC)
The origin of "seitan" meaning "wheat gluten" is interesting - it was purportedly coined Japanese-French writer George Ohsawa using the Sino-Japanese roots sei "raw" and tan "egg", but this term was never used in Japanese. Instead, seitan (せいたん can mean a number of abstract concepts in Japanese depending on context, ranging from "Christmas" to "plain food" to "making charcoal". I've included a little bit of this in the main explanation. Chloroplaster (talk) 11:40, 10 February 2020 (UTC)
- About seitan, couldn't it be a pun about seitan, the Arabic word for devil?
- That seems unlikely. In English, "Satan", which is pronounced fairly similarly to "seitan", is used as a personal name for the devil, so no Arabic-language connection is necessary. Besides, if Cueball had trained his neural net differently, it might have wound up referring to "Satan local income tax" instead of "seitan local income tax" or the correct "state and local income tax", and there would still have been a joke there, but it would have been a different joke than the one Randall actually used. --188.8.131.52 00:41, 15 February 2020 (UTC)