Hiring a lawyer for a parking-ticket appeal is not only a headache, but it can also cost more than the ticket itself. Depending on the case and the lawyer, an appeal — a legal process where you argue out of paying the fine — can cost between $400 to $900.
But with the help of a robot made by British programmer Joshua Browder, 19, it costs nothing. Browder’s bot handles questionsabout parking-ticket appeals in the UK. Since launching in late 2015, it has successfully appealed $3 million worth of tickets.
Once you sign in, a chat screen pops up. To learn about your case, the bot asks questions like “Were you the one driving?” and “Was it hard to understand the parking signs?” It then spits out an appeal letter, which you mail to the court. If the robot is completely confused, it tells you how to contact Browder directly.
The site is still in beta, and the full version will launch this spring, Browder, a Stanford University freshman, tells Tech Insider.
Since laws are publicly available, bots can automate some of the simple tasks that human lawyers have had to do for centuries. Browder’s isn’t even the first lawyer bot. The startup Acadmx’s bot creates perfectly formatted legal briefs. The company Lex Machina does data mining on judges’ records and makes predictions on what they will do in the future.
Beyond parking tickets, Browder’s bot can also help with delayed or canceled flights and payment-protection insurance (PPI) claims. Although the bot can only help file claims on simple legal issues — it can’t physically argue a case in front of a judge — it can save users a lot of money.
Browder programmed his robot based on a conversation algorithm. It uses keywords, pronouns, and word order to understand the user’s issue. He says that the more people use the robot, the more intelligent it becomes. Its algorithm can quickly analyze large amounts of data while improving itself in the process.
Although Browder programmed the bot according to UK law, he says it can be helpful in the US, too. For example, if a flight is delayed from New York City to London, the ticket holder can use the robot to claim compensation. Browder is working to program US city laws into the bot, starting with New York.
In the future, people won’t likely need to hire lawyers for simple legal appeals — they’ll just use a bot
While Browder doesn’t think robots will be debating in the US Supreme Court anytime soon, he believes that, as artificial intelligence technology progresses, fewer lawyers will do mundane tasks.
“As a 19-year-old, I have coded the entirety of the robot on my own, and I think it does a reasonable job of replacing parking lawyers,” he says. “I know there are thousands of programmers with decades more experience than me working on similar issues.”
But are bots like these the same as hiring a lawyer?
It depends on whether they cross the ethical line of giving subjective advice, says Bradley Moss, a DC attorney who specializes in national security. If the bot were to answer subjective questions, then that would be viewed as practicing law, which only humans can legally do.
Moss says (emphasis added):
There are ethical and legal limits to what they can do. Programs such as this one do not, at least in my humble opinion, threaten the legal profession writ large. They will, however, continue to streamline processes for handling simple tasks that arguably people should be able to handle without the need for — and expense of — formal legal assistance.
Most of these bots are tools that can rapidly crawl public records and serve up legal information. Bots can’t provide full and genuine legal counsel, and it will likely take them several decades to become as sophisticated as humans, says Samuel Woolley, who tracks and studies political bots.
“Bots can’t fully replace human actors — not in the foreseeable future, at least,” he tells Tech Insider. “They can’t provide nuanced social insight because they can’t really understand humor or emotional subtleties.”
When driverless cars start dominating the roads in the future, they may also automatically appeal speeding tickets. Browder is already talking with entrepreneurs about integrating his bot into cars.
He’s programming the bot to handle more complicated legal issues, too, including asylum for Syrian refugees. The language barrier is a coding challenge, since the robot needs to understand Arabic but produce a legal document in English. This bot will likely launch by summer — at no cost.
“If it is one day possible for any citizen to get the same standard of legal representation as a billionaire,” Browder says, “how can that not be a good thing?”