Homeless in Vancouver: Law chatbot has 64 percent success rate quashing parking tickets

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      In only 10 months, a free online chatbot service has successfully appealed approximately $5.2 million worth of parking tickets issued in the United Kingdom.

      The parking ticket-challenging A.I. chatbot was created in 2015 by Josh Browder after the then 18-year British programmer earned his U.K. driver’s licence and soon enough, something like 30 parking tickets.

      Browder says that he fought those tickets, which he found were wrongly issued. This in turn led him to create a chatbot application to automate and simplify the process of identifying incorrectly issued tickets.

      The chatbot went live on the web in August of 2015. In its first four months, donotpay.co.uk was used by over 86,000 Britions to appeal parking fines, with a nearly 40 percent success rate, according to a poll of the site’s users.

      “Winning appeals to parking tickets in under 30 seconds”

      Tech Insider explains that once a person signs in to the DoNotPay website, the chatbot initiates a conversation to learn the details of the case. If it determines that a ticket was wrongly issued, it creates an appeal letter which can be printed and mailed to the court. And if it can’t understand a case, the chatbot provides Browder’s direct contact.

      Browder’s chatbot isn’t “smart” in the same sense as people. To “understand”, it uses a number of clever tricks and very large databases of word meanings and associations, not to mention laws. But the more that people use it, the better it gets.

      According to a June 28 item in the Guardian, the chatbot has now taken on a total of 250,000 cases and won 160,000 of them, giving it a success rate of a 64 percent. That’s a 60 percent improvement in six months.

      Initially Browder only programmed the chatbot for U.K. parking ticket laws but the website now also advertises legal advice for people seeking compensation for delayed airline flights.

      In February, Browder said that he was programming U.S. city laws into his bot and the Guardian says that the chatbot can now help people in New York contest their parking tickets.

      There is no word, at this point, if Browder has any intention of ultimately fortifying his chatbot with the parking bylaws of Canadian cities, such as Vancouver.

      Computational power and the practice of law

      A chatbot is basically a kind of voice-controlled computer user interface. The allure of such a thing is obvious. A chatbot eliminates the need for any computer skills on the part of the user.

      The logical use of chatbots is also obvious. They will eliminate the need for human beings to be on the answering end of almost any kind of service inquiry.

      Legal help and advice is one of the areas where bots are expected to excel. Comparatively few people have complained about any potential to displace human lawyers.

      As Josh Browder claims on his website, his parking ticket chatbot may have been the “world’s first robot lawyer” but a few other “lawbots” are now being trialed on the web.

      Earlier his month, Indian legal tech startup Lawrato launched a legal aid chatbot on Facebook’s messenger platform to answer questions of law. Another startup called TypeLaw (formerly AcadMX) is offering a web-based bot that can create perfectly formatted legal briefs. And Lex Machina, a spinoff of Stanford University (where Josh Browder is a freshman) is offering automated legal services, including analytics and data mining.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.