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New Chatbot Helps Refugees

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 13, 2017 2:15 PM

DoNotPay, an autonomous program that has helped beat more than 160,000 parking tickets, is moving into a new field of practice.

The brainchild of Stanford student Joshua Browder, the software robot now gives legal advice to refugees. It is available to those seeking asylum in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The robot works through Facebook Messenger, asking a series of questions and helping immigrants complete required forms. Unlike your local barrister, the chatbot is available around the clock.

Beyond Parking Tickets

Browder, who continues to add new legal services to the program, said he wanted to do something more meaningful than fight parking tickets.

"I originally started with parking tickets and delayed fights and all sorts of trivial consumer rights issues," Browder said. "But then I began to be approached by these nonprofits and lawyers who said the idea of automating legal services is bigger than just a few parking fines."

Dubbed "the world's first robot lawyer," DoNotPay started out as a free service. It quickly became a valuable tool, however, as it beat more than $4 million in parking fines in London and New York in less than two years.

Robot Laywer Long Overdue

Browder says this new refugee function for his robot lawyer was "long overdue." He told the Guardian that it took him about six months to develop.

"I kept showing it to lawyers throughout the process and I'd go back and tweak it," he said. "That took months and months of work, but we wanted to make sure it was right."

The self-taught coder said he chose Messenger for the program because of its accessibility. However, he said, the program is not encrypted from "end-to-end."

That means that Facebook and others may have access to the communications. In other words, robot-lawyer and human-client confidentiality might be an issue.

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