The cliché runs that robots are eventually going to steal your job, implying that anyone who does factory work or manual labour had better have a Plan B for retirement, but there’s a growing number of knowledge economy workers who are ripe for displacement by bots.
A 19-year-old British student attending Stanford University in California named Joshua Browder has built DoNotPay, the World’s First Robot Lawyer, according to his website, which is a chatbot that has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York at no charge to the people who received the tickets.
Chatbots are already being used to help people find jobs, to order food for delivery, and is already useful in a wide variety of communications applications.
At age 13, Browder created an app for Pret a Manger stores, which he told Fortune was “a blatant copyright violation”, but which the British food chain eventually adopted as its official app.
Shortly after that, he was helping the American democracy watchdog Freedom House build an app, and then helped International Bridges for Justice make an app to automate training for the organization’s lawyers.
In the 21 months since Browder launched DoNotPay in New York and London, the bot has had a 64% success rate overturning 160,000 out of a total 250,000 cases.
Browder developed the app while still in London after receiving over 30 tickets when he turned 18 and was legally allowed to drive.
While the DoNotPay app may seem like a solution to a first-world problem, Browder has made it clear that his intention is to help society’s most vulnerable, who are disproportionately caught in the justice system for minor offences.
“Access to justice for the non-wealthy is a serious concern,” said Catherine Bamford, a former lawyer in Leeds who advises law firms and corporate legal departments on automation, to Fortune. “Legal aid budgets have been slashed in recent years. With helper bots like DoNotPay, some willing lawyers and expert programmers, legal advice could become cheap and accessible to everyone via the Internet. This is a real step in the right direction.”
Bots are taking over, in case you hadn’t noticed.
Waterloo, Ontario chat platform Kik recently opened itself to third-party developers, so that anyone can now develop a bot to interact with Kik’s 275 million registered users.
“With helper bots like DoNotPay, some willing lawyers and expert programmers, legal advice could become cheap and accessible to everyone via the Internet. This is a real step in the right direction.” – legal consultant Catherine Bamford
Bots now engage with users of WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and are used to hail a ride on Uber, or to order things like flowers or pizza for delivery.
Slack users can use TacoBot to order food for pickup from Taco Bell.
Lawyers, though, probably assumed that their jobs were safe, at least in the near term.
In 2015, the City of New York issued $1.9 billion in traffic fines.
To challenge a ticket through DoNotPay, a user logs in to the website, where the bot determines whether an appeal is possible by asking questions, such as whether parking signs were clearly visible at the time the fine was issued, and then guides the user through the process of lodging an appeal.
It’s a kind of insta-lawyer, without the need for contacting or paying for a human lawyer to do the same relatively mundane and formulaic job.
The DoNotPay lawyer-bot has no business model, being free to use, but Browder seems to be using it as a testing ground for tackling larger social problems.
He has the intention of developing similar bots to help people with flight delay compensation, and is also developing a blockchain application to assist HIV-positive people navigate the legal system.
Right now, he’s participating in the Highland Capital summer startup accelerator program, creating a bot that will help refugees apply for asylum, using IBM’s Watson to translate Arabic to English.
Browder hopes to launch DoNotPay in Seattle this fall.
It always brightens my day to receive these emails. I wish the local governments would just follow the rules pic.twitter.com/1gz6NjYSs3
— Joshua Browder (@jbrowder1) June 26, 2016