The Chatbot Helping Refugees Claim Asylum

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Hats off to this Stanford student.

A protest in support of immigrants

Twenty-year-old Stanford University student Joshua Browder recently made headlines when he created, by his definition, the world’s first robot lawyer, “DoNotPay” – a free service that helps people appeal their parking fines. It’s a ‘stick it to the man’ idea that’s been welcomed with open arms by international drivers and has so far proved extremely successful. At just 21 months old, the chatbot overturned 160,000 parking tickets, totalling over four million dollars.

Now the London-born developer is using his brains (and bot) to help asylum seekers fill out application forms for the US and Canada, with the help of Facebook Messenger. For those in the UK, the chatbot is also offering assistance with asylum support.

The bot works by asking the user a series of questions to determine which application they need for their situation, and whether they’re eligible for asylum protection.

Of his handy creation, Joshua told the Guardian, “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,” Joshua said. While his invention was well underway before Trump’s entry into the White House, it seems that his timing couldn’t be more perfect.

The bot works by asking the user a series of questions to determine which application they need for their situation, and whether they’re eligible for asylum protection. Once this step is completed, the necessary details for the form are documented and filled out. Joshua says it was crucial the questions were in plain English. “The language in these forms can be quite complicated.”

There is a lot of debate surrounding the use of chatbots, but in this case [it] shows the potential chatbots have to help those with language and resource barriers.

These details are used to auto-fill an application form for either the US, Canada or the UK. “Once the form is sent off, the details are deleted from my end,” said Joshua. There is a lot of debate surrounding the use of chatbots and their future roles in replacing human workers, but in this case its humanitarian edge shows the potential chatbots have to help those with language and resource barriers.

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