His 'robot lawyer' has helped people beat 160,000 parking tickets. Here's what's next.
His free service has saved people millions of dollars, and he's just getting started.
When he was 18, Joshua Browder had a reputation for getting parking tickets. Lots of parking tickets.
Unable to pay the ever-mounting fines, Browder got really good at challenging them. He became a kind of local expert in the art of appealing tickets, helping friends and family work their way out of the occasional citation.
This gave him an idea.
Browder created DoNotPay, a bot designed to make the process of appealing parking tickets easy — and automated.
The chat bot asks the user a series of questions aimed at determining whether they have a legitimate gripe with the ticket. For example, it might ask whether there were any "No Parking" signs present at the location.
"I thought a really cool side project would be to create this chat bot just to kind of show off to my friends at school," he tells Upworthy.
The free service took off.
What began as a fun project to show friends and family caught the attention of international media outlets, though the bot is currently only available to drivers in New York and London (and soon, Seattle).
To date, DoNotPay has helped drivers save more than $4 million by successfully appealing more than 160,000 tickets.
Browder has done what so many inventors only dream of: He created technology that genuinely improves the lives of its users. — specifically, low-income users.
An April 2016 study looked at the challenges facing drivers and found that a single unpaid ticket could snowball into a nearly insurmountable fine for low-income individuals.
DoNotPay might change all that.
Someone who might not be able to afford the cost of a ticket at the time it's handed down could face penalties and late fees until the sum is several times the original.
"For a person who's very low income, who may be unemployed, who may be living on public assistance, on SSI because of a disability or because they are elderly, they can't afford these payments," report co-author and senior attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty Antionette Dozier told KPCC News.
DoNotPay could help low-income drivers who can't afford a lawyer to challenge a ticket on their behalf the ability to successfully appeal it on their own, putting an end to this cycle.
Browder's goal reaches beyond traffic tickets. He's working on a feature to help refugees navigate foreign legal systems.
In a new country, many refugees may not be up to date on laws or what rights they have when it comes to receiving a fair trial. Browder's vision involves a version of the bot that can understand both Arabic and English, providing users with answers to basic legal questions.
The bot is obviously more affordable and accessible than hiring a lawyer, and, to a refugee who might not have much money, it could be a lifesaver.
Additionally, Browder is working on a feature that would help air travelers seek reimbursement for late flights and another that would help HIV-positive individuals navigate disclosure laws and procedures.
It's Browder's hope that these technological advances will help make life more efficient and more fair to all people.
"I think that not just in law, but in so many aspects, technology can provide services for free, and at that point, the economically disadvantaged can gain access to things they previously hadn't been able to gain access to," Browder says, citing the government as a particularly bureaucratic and historically inefficient system.
As for the money that cities are counting on collecting from parking tickets, it looks like they'll be OK after all. In 2015, New York City collected $1.9 billion in fines and fees.
Ensuring that a few million dollars in erroneously issued tickets don't go to collections doesn't seem to be a huge problem.