If there were a Thunderdome-like tournament for the things in life that cause the most aggravation, a matchup between chatbots and parking tickets wouldn't be out of the question. At best, automated chat programs can be briefly amusing. At their worst, they can be a lure to trap unsuspecting people into sharing personal information or downloading malware. Parking tickets don't have as broad a range — it's never fun to find one on your car.
But what if you could pit the two against each other? A Stanford University student named Joshua Browder did just that. He designed a service called Do Not Pay, which allows people who've received a parking ticket in London or New York City to contest the charge. He didn't build it to help the guilty escape punishment, though. He created Do Not Pay because he felt that local governments often treat parking tickets as a way to generate revenue and that people are often targeted unfairly.
The way it works is pretty simple. First, you have to create an account with Do Not Pay. Then, you indicate the city where you received the ticket. After that, you must answer some questions to narrow down your specific set of circumstances. This also determines whether you're eligible to argue your case.
Let's say you parked in a space and paid for parking, but the permit had the wrong date on it. You could go to Do Not Pay and answer a few questions, and the service would provide the proper paperwork to file on your behalf. Do Not Pay covers many different scenarios that could lead to an improper ticket, such as insufficient or obstructed signage or even cases in which the driver has diplomatic immunity.
According to Browder, the service has a 64 percent success rate. Out of the 250,000 times people have used it, the service has overturned 160,000 parking tickets (mostly in London). Since Do Not Pay isn't breaking any rules, it's not gaming the system. Browder has just created a tool that streamlines the bureaucratic process you'd have to follow to argue your case.
Browder's solution could work in other contexts as well. Browder has already expanded the service to help people seek a refund for flight delays greater than four hours. And he hopes to create similar tools to help people in other situations, including one that would aid Syrian refugees seeking asylum in other countries.
Do Not Pay illustrates that there are certain standardized processes for which a chatbot is ideally suited. But the further you move from a straightforward path, the less effective a chatbot becomes. So while you might be able to get out of a parking ticket using a chatbot, there's no reason to expect courtrooms to be filled with robo-lawyers in the near future. Check out the video above to learn more about the bot.