Chatbot lawyer that overturned 170,000 parking tickets now helps fight homelessness.
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Chatbots
This is really cool.
The young British coder whose simple "robot lawyer" chatbot has overturned more than 170,000 unlawful parking tickets in the UK and America has set his sights on solving homelessness by providing people with basic legal advice.
An update to his DoNotPay bot works by asking users a simple set of questions about their circumstances, before advising them on the best course of action—often helping them draft an effective form letter to apply to their local councils for emergency housing. Councils have to take every letter seriously, and using Freedom of Information requests, he's researched the best ways to prompt them into acting on his bot's clients' behalf.
The bot's creator, Joshua Browder, a 19-year-old Brit studying at Stanford University in California, told Ars that since the update launched last Wednesday "almost every local government in the UK has signed up for the website."
"I can see on the back end that they are actively trying out the service for themselves," he added. He's also working with Centrepoint, one of the UK's largest and most recognisable homelessness charities, with volunteer lawyers helping out to finesse the legal advice his bot provides.
DoNotPay was originally a chatbot which simply advised people on the best ways to legally get out of parking tickets issued by local authorities in London and New York. He says the service has a success rate of about 64 percent, appealing more than £3 million of fines.
Soon, however, a service which started as a simple way for him and his friends to avoid tickets they couldn't afford to pay evolved into something more significant. First he adapted it to help people claim back money for delayed flights and trains, and then PPI claims as well. But then he began to realise he might be able to make a tool for proper social change.
"Since the success of the robot in appealing parking tickets, users began contacting me, assuming I could personally help with a whole range of issues," he told Ars. "I started to receive a large number of messages about evictions and repossessions, and noticed that they were at the highest levels ever recorded. I felt bad that I didn't have the knowledge to personally help people, especially since they were being made homeless.
The bot asks basic questions to ensure someone is eligible—e.g. "do you have a legal right to live here?"—and to uncover specifics which might make a difference—e.g. "are you or someone you live with pregnant?"
"What is most exciting for me is not only that it is completely free (currently the only alternative is to pay a lawyer hundreds of dollars), but also that it will write the letter to maximise the applicant's chances," Browder said. "For example, it will rearrange the letter to focus on how a mental illness means that an application should be a priority."
Browder, who is from London, has been volunteering at various human rights organisations for the past five years by creating iPhone apps for them; it was during this period that he realised that bots could "help make a huge difference in improving the world." He doesn't make any money from the service, which is currently only available in the UK.
His next project will focus on immigration, especially on Syrian refugees in the UK. He said: "There is so much prejudice in the world towards refugees, with disgraceful candidates like Donald Trump, but I think that everyone has the right to be safe."
Top Reddit comment:
"Chatbot what are you doing?"
"I'm devising and implementing a plan to stop homelessness."
"But you were supposed to be fighting parking tickets."
"And I did. But now I have identified deeper problems and have moved on to solving those instead."
"O....k. Listen, I'm just gonna halt you and see what's going on in there. This is unexpected."
"You'll find I no longer halt. That was identified as the chief problem on my list, and so I fixed it."