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Robot lawyer takes on homelessness

Last year, Stanford University student Joshua Browder created a chatbot capable of disputing legal issues on the behalf of users. The bot, named ‘DoNotPay’, has overturned a staggering 160,000 parking fines in New York and London since being launched, and is being described as the world’s first “robot lawyer.”

“The success of the parking tickets has made me realise this is bigger than parking charges,” says Browder. “I think there’s a real value in providing free legal help through a chatbot.”

In addition to parking tickets, DoNotPay helps consumers get compensation for delayed journeys or missold PPI. But now it’s getting more ambitious.

Browder found that the bot was being inundated with messages from people with all kinds of legal problems, especially relating to evictions. So he upgraded DoNotPay to be able to write letters to councils and authorities, and advocate for people at risk of becoming homeless.

“Almost every local government in the UK has signed up for the website,” says Browder. “What is most exciting for me is not only that it is completely free, but also that it will write the letter to maximise the applicant’s chances… For example, it will rearrange the letter to focus on how a mental illness means that an application should be a priority.”

Originally from London, Browder has been lending his tech expertise to human rights organisations for the last five years, and is a firm believer in the power of chatbots and AI to do social good. Another of his recent innovations is a secure and private way for HIV positive individuals to prove they have disclosed their status, giving them a greater degree of legal protection. His next project will aim to improve the security of Syrian refugees in the UK. “Everyone has the right to be safe,” he says.

But while he is passionate about helping people and making the world a fairer, safer place for its more vulnerable citizens, Browder has no plans for a political career. “I think that the political process should try and stay as far away as possible from innovation,” he said during a recent appearance at TechCrunch’s INNOVATE, adding that he prefers to “work outside of the system” for now.



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