Next time you see a little yellow slip of paper fluttering on your dashboard, don’t fret. There’s a bot for that.
Over a two-year period, the so-called ‘robot lawyer’ has successfully challenged and overturned no less than 160,000 parking tickets.
Technically a ‘chatbot,’ it was designed to help people in the U.K. dispute parking violations in just 30 seconds. And it’s entirely free to use.
“You can just chat as if it’s a robot lawyer, or a human being.” – Josh Browder, founder and CEO of DoNotPay
Necessity leads to invention
DoNotPay was invented by 19-year-old student Josh Browder, who is currently in his second year at Stanford University in California.
The idea came to him after he got stuck paying for his own parking tickets when he turned 18.
“Kind of out of necessity, I became this local parking guru,” he tells Day 6 guest host Josh Bloch. “And I thought, wouldn’t it be a cool idea to create a chatbot to help people automatically appeal their tickets?”
“I began to notice that local governments were issuing them not because people were doing things wrong, for most part, but to raise money.”
How it works
DoNotPay works sort of like a Facebook Messenger interface, Browder says.
When the user opens it up on their screen, it poses a few straightforward questions about the parking ticket to identify the problem — for example, ‘Was the parking bay too small?’ or ‘Were the signs clear’?
The user can answer the question in their own words, using whatever phrases or explanations they’d like.
“There’s no sort of language to learn or site to navigate,” Browder explains. “You can just chat as if it’s a robot lawyer, or a human being.”
“Millions and millions of these tickets are being issued. So I’ve just scratched the surface of the global parking crookery.” – Josh Browder, founder and CEO of DoNotPay
Once it has the information it needs, the bot will automatically place the relevant details into a generic challenge letter that can be sent straight to the local parking authorities.
Currently, the bot only works in New York City and the U.K. but Browder hopes to expand the service to Canada at some point next year and he’s getting requests from all over the world.
“Millions and millions of these tickets are being issued. So I’ve just scratched the surface of the global parking crookery.”
Bots for the better
Even though his chatbot has proven so popular, Browder is adamant that he will never charge people to use it.
“From my experience the people getting these parking tickets are some of the most vulnerable in society,” he says.
“If you’re an elderly pensioner in the North of England, and you get a 60-pound ticket, that’s half of your state pension. So it wouldn’t feel right targeting and making money off these vulnerable groups.”
Chatbots have been proliferating in the past year, with adaptations for everything from online retail websites to Facebook Messenger. But Browder is uninspired by most of the offerings he’s seen.
“There have been so many bots to order pizzas or get an Uber, but none for public service,” he remarks.
Browder’s drive to use chatbot technology for the greater good has already inspired him to develop another voice-controlled bot — this time to assist Syrian refugees with asylum claims in the U.K., and eventually Germany and Sweden as well.
The bot will use speech recognition technology to understand and answer refugees’ questions in Arabic, and then produce the necessary documents in English.
Browder hopes to have his latest bot ready for Syrian refugees’ use this fall.