Parking ticket chatbot creator sets sights on homelessness

Joshua Browder

The creator of a chatbot that successfully challenged 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York has now written a program to provide the homeless with legal aid.

London-born Joshua Browder, 19, a student at Stanford University, extended DoNotPay’s functionality to include other legal issues, among them claiming for delayed trains and flights as well as payment protection insurance (PPI).

Now he has set his sight on homelessness. He said: “I never could have imagined a parking ticket bot would appeal so much to people. Then I realised: this issue is bigger than a few parking tickets.”

He told the Washington Post: “I felt bad that I didn’t have the knowledge to personally help people, especially since they were being made homeless.”

The bot asks people a few questions in order to determine the best way to help them, usually by sending a letter to their local council applying for emergency housing.

Mr Browder used the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and volunteer lawyers to gather information on why applications are approved or denied so that the bot can create the best application for each person.

Gaia Marcus, the manager of Centrepoint, a charity for young homeless people, said: “You can’t overstate how important it is that this technology is built with an understanding of the social issue it’s addressing.

“Many of the young people Centrepoint work with would have been in terrible situations for several months before they came to the realisation they were homeless and that’s just the first step.”

The chatbot is only available in the UK at the moment but Mr Browder hopes to extend it to San Francisco and New York. He said: “The issue of homelessness is universal, but the reasons behind it are different depending on where you are.

“I don’t think I could just replicate this in San Francisco, for example. I’d have to work on something different.”