One of the most fun aspects of covering startups is the chance to follow the trajectory of a career, getting to know a young entrepreneur in the early days of their business and then watching as the company grows into something truly impressive. It's an experience I've enjoyed a handful of times -- but this is the first time it's happened with a robot.

Last year I came across across an intriguing report in the UK Guardian about an AI lawyer called DoNotPay, which offered advice to those looking to get out of parking tickets via a Facebook chatbot. It's track record was impressive -- winning 64 percent of the 250,000 cases it had taken on at the time and helping drivers dodge some $4 million in fines.

Apparently, since then DoNotPay (or, OK, its creator, Stanford student Joshua Browder) got a little antsy just tackling parking tickets and developed a hankering to take on more meaningful work. Because now, Business Insider reports this robot lawyer has moved on to helping refugees complete their paperwork and escape persecution:

"There's this huge problem among immigration lawyers where the majority of their time is spent filling out forms rather than actually challenging the legal complexities of the case," Browder, whose grandmother fled the Holocaust, said in a phone call from California. "So what this does, it takes down hundreds of details from individuals and automatically fills out" the necessary forms.

Built with the help of various lawyers and non-profits, the chatbot will ask everything from the applicant's age and nationality to whether they are "afraid of being subject to torture" in their home country.

In the US and Canada, it will help fill in asylum applications, while in the UK -- where you have to apply in person -- it assists in filling out asylum support forms. The student says he's also looking at expanding the bot to include Germany "if I have time."

Awww, our little AI attorney is all grown up! And given the current political climate, just in time to make a real difference.

But all joking aside, the evolution of Browder's tool is a testament to just how many areas of life are soon to be touched by advancing AI, and how quickly these shifts are occurring. That's fascinating for tech watchers and often great for consumers, but can also be extremely jarring for workers (and worrying for young people wondering how to prepare themselves for an AI-filled future).

The DoNotPay story illustrates both sides of this equation, offering reason to cheer for asylum seekers and reason to fear for lawyers and those that make their providing them administrative support.

Published on: Mar 13, 2017
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