The chatbot helping refugees seek asylum

The AI based chatbot is helping refugees claim asylum in the US, Canada and UK

Tech Desk March 07, 2017
The AI based chatbot is helping refugees claim asylum in the US, Canada and UK. Photo: Joshua Browder

The chatbot that helped people overturn 160,000 parking fines is now helping refugees claim asylum in the US, Canada and UK.

DoNotPay is an artificial intelligence based chatbot that uses Facebook Messenger to give its users free legal advice. Developed by Stanford student Joshua Browder “the world’s first robot lawyer” is now helping refugees fill immigration applications in the US and Canada while helping others apply for asylum support in the UK.

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Speaking with the Guardian, the London-born developer said, “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 which took months and months of work, but we wanted to make sure it was right.”

Photo: Joshua Browder


Browder started working on his project before US presidential elections but feels the chatbot is more important now than ever. “I wanted to add Canada at the last minute because of the changes in the political background in the US,” he said.

The chatbot works by asking users multiple question to determine whether the applicant is eligible for asylum protection under international law and then proceeds to determine the appropriate application for the refugee.

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This, however, is easier said than done. Browder says it's crucial the questions are in plain English. “The language in these forms can be quite complicated.” Details provided by applicants are then used to auto-fill applications. “Once the form is sent off, the details are deleted from my end,” said Browder.

The developer’s next step is making the service available in more languages, including Arabic, and rolling it out to more platforms such as WhatsApp. “Ideally I would love to expand to WhatsApp when their platform opens up, particularly because it’s popular internationally.”

The chatbot has had more than 3,000 users, with over 240,000 messages sent and received.

Browder runs DoNotPay alongside his studies at Stanford University. He said: “My degree has become a bit of a side project these days.”


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