A Jewish teenager from London felt something was terribly unjust about senior citizens and other needy people being hit with unjust parking tickets.
So he created a crusading ‘chatbot,’ an internet tool based on articial intelligence, to fight the powers that be.
Joshua Browder, the creator of DoNotPay, told the Forward the elderly and disabled, more likely to make a parking mistake, were getting fined nearly 120 British pounds — half of the state pension for one week. The government shouldn’t be taxing the most vulnerable populations for simple mistakes, he said.
“People were being deprived of their livelihoods,” Browder said.
DoNotPay works by responding to user messages — for free — with simple questions that help guide it in filing an appeal on the user’s behalf. In the year since its creation, Browder’s app has taken on nearly 250,000 tickets and won $4 million in the U.K. alone, he said.
Unlike an app, a chatbot can exist on different messaging apps like Facebook Messenger. While Browder’s chatbot currently exists on his website DoNotPay.co.uk, he said on Twitter he is exploring integration with messaging platforms.
In order to test the ticket system, Browder started collecting parking tickets for protesting purposes, ending up with about 30 by the age of 18.
“Once I knew there was a flaw, I wanted to test it,” he said. “Admittedly, I’m not the best driver, so some were legitimate. But I only appealed the ones for testing purposes.”
So focused on keeping DoNotPay from crashing that I just got my own parking ticket pic.twitter.com/JXsZkeTbFj— Joshua Browder (@jbrowder1) June 28, 2016
Browder, who said being Jewish is a core part of his identity, started teaching himself to code before the age of online coding tutorials — at first just by copying what he saw in YouTube videos. One of Browder’s first apps, an unofficial iPhone app for British sandwich shop Pret A Manger he made at age 13, became so popular that the restaurant officially adopted the app.
But Browder thought coding could be used to do much more.
“The thing I really love about tech and coding is that you can have a big impact and be anyone,” he said. “So I reached out to human rights organizations offering to code for them and about six came back asking for an app.”
Browder, who was interested in artificial intelligence and machine learning, started building his parking chatbot last year while at Stanford. He said that while he has mostly worked on his chatbot by himself, many of his professors and lawyers from Stanford’s law school have provided advice and help.
In order to teach his chatbot to understand common parking ticket issues, Browder created a parking appeals website where he received more than 3,000 emails from people asking how to appeal their ticket. Using the emails as a database to teach his chatbot to recognize problems, he trained it to ask for basic information to file an appeal or assist the user.
Though it started in the Britain, DoNotPay is now open for business for angry parking ticket recipients in New York City, and is slated to open in Seattle as well.
Browder said he also plans to create a developer platform to help train his chatbot for other types of legal battles.
“I was bombarded on Twitter with requests for different kinds of laws, but I’m just one person,” Browder said. “Creating a platform lets people contribute to the knowledge of the bot.”
DoNotPay has already begun assisting users in filing compensation claims for missed flights, and Browder is developing a chatbot to assist those with HIV in understanding their rights.