WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Claiming asylum is difficult at the best of times, and that’s if you’re not in fear of your life and can understand the language, now DoNotPay’s latest bot makes the process less tortuous
The creator of a chatbot that helped to over turn more than 160,000 parking tickets – they weren’t all mine by the way… and helped vulnerable people apply for emergency housing is now turning the bot to helping refugees claim asylum.
DoNotPay, which was created by Stanford student Joshua Browder, describes itself as the world’s first robo-lawyer and it’s designed to give free legal aid to people who need it using just a simple chat like interface, and now the chat bot, which uses Facebook is helping refugees fill in Canadian, UK and US immigration applications.
Browder, who was born in London worked with lawyers in each country, as well as speaking to asylum seekers whose applications have been successful to create the new interface and he says the innovation is “long overdue.”
“I’ve been trying to launch this for about six months – I initially wanted to do it in the summer but I wanted to make sure I got it right because it’s such a complicated issue. I kept showing it to lawyers throughout the process and I’d go back and tweak it,” said Browder, “that took months and months of work, but we wanted to make sure it was right.”
Browder who began working on the new project before Donald Trump became US president said he feels it’s more important than ever.
“I wanted to add Canada at the last minute because of the changes in the political background in the US,” he said.
The chatbot works by asking the user a series of questions, in order to determine which application the refugee needs to fill out and whether a refugee is eligible for asylum protection under international law.
After this, it takes down the necessary details required for the appropriate asylum application – a Canadian Asylum Application for Canada, an an ASF1 form in the UK, and an I-589 for the United States.
Browder says it was crucial the questions were in plain English.
“The language in these forms can be quite complicated,” he said.
As the user answers each question the details are used to auto fill the right form.
“Once the form is sent off, the details are deleted from my end,” said Browder.
The 20 year old chose Facebook Messenger as a home for the latest incarnation of his robo-lawyer because of accessibility.
“It works with almost every device, making it accessible to over a billion people,” he said.
And Browder acknowledges Messenger doesn’t come without its pitfalls. Unlike some other chat apps, it’s not automatically end to end encrypted.
“Ideally I would love to expand to WhatsApp when their platform opens up, particularly because it’s popular internationally,” he said.
Once the application is sent, the data is destroyed from his servers within 10 minutes of someone using the bot, and the next step is making the service available in more languages – Browder, for example, is currently working on translating it into Arabic.
Meanwhile immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn welcomed DoNotPay’s latest venture.
“As an immigration attorney, I can see the major benefits that leveraging sophisticated chat bot technology will have in the asylum application process,” she said, “it will be easier for applicants to submit their applications and it will empower legal aid organisations to assist a larger number of clients. Asylum seekers want to follow the laws and do everything properly, and this technology will help them do that.”
So far DoNotPay’s chat bot has taken on everything from parking tickets and homelessness to helping people claim for delayed flights and trains and it’s a powerful demonstration of how today’s technologies can be combined with ideas, network effects and business execution to democratise access to services that were once complex, expensive and all too often inaccessible.
As I say all too often – when it’s combined in the right way technology has a democratising effect. First, we had the internet, which democratised access to information, and now, in the “Second wave” artificial intelligence (AI) is having the same democratising effect on expertise. We’re only just getting started, and no industry will be immune.