Bots are giving everyone access to specialist services & skills
Chatbots are the personal assistants of the future. Ask them a question, they’ll tell you the answer. Need something ordering, they’ll do it automatically. Want to take down a multinational corporation, they’ll sue them for you. . .
With products such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant now being welcomed into our homes, we’re getting used to the convenience of robot helpers. However, this could come at a cost. As robots make it easier for us to complete certain tasks, they take away steps in our decision making process. If all you’re doing is completing the weekly shop, then that doesn’t pose too much of a problem. But as the development of bot technology continues we could start to see them being used in more questionable ways. What if you could use a bot to sue someone, for example? It looks like this is exactly the direction in which we are heading.
DoNotPay – but do sue
When Joshua Browder began to drive at the age of 18, he received a lot of parking tickets. Discovering that the process of appealing these tickets was essentially formulaic, he realised it could easily be done by a bot. Soon afterwards, DoNotPay was born. It is estimated that the bot has saved motorists around $5 million in fines since its launch. But it didn’t stop there. DoNotPay has helped people to get compensation in the wake of the Equifax scandal, where a cybersecurity breach compromised the personal data of 143 million Americans. By the end of this year, the company wants to launch an extension which will help its users to sue anyone. By providing people with the necessary documents, DoNotPay will enable them to take businesses to court. It will serve as a kind of robot lawyer.
A stated aim of DoNotPay is to “take down” corporations where they hurt normal people. It is certainly true that the rich and powerful have traditionally exploited the legal system for their own benefit. They have the financial resources to hire lawyers and pursue costly legal action that the general public can only dream of. This is an inherent injustice in the justice system: sometimes victims don’t have the means to challenge those who have done them wrong. The democratisation of justice that chatbots can provide has to be a good thing. Bots like DoNotPay have the ability to restrict the bullying tactics of large corporations.
The morality of the machine
Whilst the ability to stop injustice is an admirable aim, DoNotPay and bot lawyers run the risk of overwhelming the world’s legal systems. If anyone can sue anyone else with ease, then legal channels might be swamped by spurious litigation. Companies and individuals could find themselves fighting constant legal battles at great expense, causing economies to stall. Societies will definitely need to develop legislation to prevent this.
On a more philosophical note, the concept of bot lawyers raises serious ethical questions about how we make decisions. As the use of bots becomes more widespread, we could soon see them facilitating everything from individual disputes between neighbours to on-the-spot automated divorces. It’s this immediacy that is the problem. If we reduce complex and emotionally laden actions such as getting a divorce to a few simple clicks, then we take away the personal impact of making those decisions. Our neural pathways for emotions and reasoning – honed by evolution over millions of years – will be bypassed in a matter of moments. What’s more, if the robot is doing the work rather than the person, is the person still the agent of their actions?
In fact, as AI technology progresses, we are programming robots to make more and more complex decisions which have increasingly bigger impacts upon our lives. This includes the power over who lives or dies – consider what a driverless car should do if it needs to take evasive action on the road. In philosophy, ethics is a grey area. We have been debating issues of morality for thousands of years, and we still can’t agree on the answers. However, we are now deferring this responsibility to the bots. Like the other applications of AI, the development of bot technology is inevitable. It is happening now, and happening fast. We therefore need to make sure that our own ethics around the place of robots in society can keep up. The question remains: as we humanise robots, are we robotising humans?
Does the use of chatbots need to be restricted? Will the use of robots actually affect how we think and behave? What is the future of the chatbot in our homes? Share your thoughts and opinions.