Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
By Ethan Wolff-Mann
June 29, 2016

Chat bots are the next big thing in tech circles, but communicating their usefulness to the general public has been a little tricky.

The point of these little programs that let people have conversations with a computer? You can ask a chat bot to do something for you, like fetching information or executing a command, like ordering something. Why would you want to have a conversation with a computer when you can just hit a button? The reason seems to be integration—so you don’t have to open another app to hit that button. For example, if you’re using Slack or Facebook Messager and want to order pizza, a chat bot could let you simply say so and order it for you.

Even for pizza nuts, this may not sell you on a bot’s utility. But a bot that can get you out of a parking ticket without a hassle?

It’s a reality: You can choose trial by combat and call on a chat bot as your champion against the government. Created by British student Joshua Browder of Stanford University, DoNotPay offers a free solution to tickets. The service’s bots start by asking users a series of questions, the answers to which offer enough information for the automatons to check the laws to evaluate the strength of your argument, like whether streets and roads are marked.

According to the Guardian, DoNotPay’s bots have scored 160,000 victories in 250,000 attempts over 21 months, an astonishing 64% win rate–not to mention a massive amount of money saved in tickets and legal fees.

Since so much of the appeals process for a ticket is rote, it wasn’t particularly difficult for a programmer to work out. Other challenges Browder’s DoNotPay is looking to conquer are securing rights for HIV-positive people and refugees, and getting compensation for travelers whose flights were delayed.

If the concept gets improved and scales further, it has the potential to help people who don’t have the time or inclination to fight certain legal issues like fines–and to dispense legal advice in an affordable manner. So far, the service is only available in London and New York, but it’s heading to Seattle soon.


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