A teenager who developed an ingenious way to combat parking tickets is taking his ‘robot lawyer’ to a whole new level.
Originally Josh Browder, 19, began a website to help friends and family deal with their parking fines after he received a whopping 30 parking tickets in the months after passing his driving test. Despite having no legal experience he actually managed to save them all a considerable sum of money.
Eventually the media caught wind of his site and the free legal advice that he was offering. Josh soon found himself inundated with thousands of messages asking him for help. Feeling overwhelmed by the situation but not willing to let anyone down Josh did what all computer genius’s do and went to work automating the process.
Speaking to us about the decision he said:
I just found it hard to say ‘no’ to people, especially the elderly and the disabled when local governments were unfairly fining them.
It took Josh months to complete his robot lawyer, and in his words there were ‘a few sleepless nights’ while he worked on it. Eventually though, he finished the design and despite some initial teething problems – Josh says he didn’t realise there were ‘ten thousand ways to say I got a parking ticket’, so the ‘challenge was to get the robot to understand general chat’ – it was a huge success and has appealed $3 million (£2 million) worth of tickets since it’s launch.
Part of the websites success is that it uses dynamic algorithms which means it slowly learns over time how people talk. Josh admitted when he first started it would often get confused and he’d have to step in and help the bot, but it’s slowly learning the different ways in which people talk and is adapting. He estimated that now it only fails five per cent of the time.
Josh has claimed that this is just the start though, and when we asked him if machines could begin to replace lawyers in other area’s he said ‘he doesn’t see why not’.
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, especially as there are thousands of programmers with decades more experience than me working on similar ideas.
He hopes that by automating lawyers he can create a world where everyone has fair and equal access to the best possible legal representation regardless of wealth.
However, an anonymous legal professional told us that while there are elements of the law that machines are well suited to, such as small tasks like parking tickets, he doesn’t think machines will replace lawyers all together, claiming that in law there’s ‘never a yes or no answer’.
There are things [within the law] that are just too complex for a computer to deal with, such as large scale litigation between companies. How is a machine going to do that? If one big company is suing another will the machine understand the nuances of the case?
He went on to say that there’s too much ‘humanity built into the legal system’, saying it’s man who makes the rules. The legal professional also said that ‘the arbiters of the law, judges, are human and that you can’t leave the process leading up to seeing a judge to a computer’, and questioned whether a jury would trust a machine over a human.
Our source also raised the ethical considerations that need to be made before using ‘bots’ as lawyers, saying: “If we moved to a society where we let computers decide to take someone’s life away [by imprisoning them] we will have lost our humanity.”
Despite our sources comments, ‘humanity’ is something Josh is very concerned about, and his next project is going beyond just helping those at risk of a fine. He’s aiming to save the lives of those in unimaginable situations, and is already hard at work building his new bot, which will help Syrian refugee’s claim asylum.
The project, in principle, is the same as his parking fine bot, but is far more sophisticated due to the nature of seeking asylum. He’s talking to human rights lawyers and compiling a database of information so his programme will be a comprehensive automated lawyer.
He also claims that due to the complex nature of the laws it’s taking a long time to build, but that when it’s finished it’ll be able to help those who can’t speak English by actively translating for them, and will pull up relevant cases to reinforce their claim for asylum.
The new bot’s not been approved for use just yet and is still very much a work in progress, but Josh hopes that it’ll be up and running by late spring and is already looking at using Facebook’s internet.org to inform Syrians about the bot.
It’s clear that Josh is looking to change the world and he finished his interview with us by saying: “I’m not looking to make any money, I just want to help people.”
Best of luck to you, Josh!