Man planned on using AI-powered lawyer in court; then he started getting threats

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Posted at 4:28 PM, Jan 24, 2023

The CEO of legal services company DoNotPay tweeted earlier this month that he planned on using artificial intelligence to defend himself in court.

“On February 22nd at 1.30PM, history will be made. For the first time ever, a robot will represent someone in a US courtroom. DoNotPay A.I will whisper in someone's ear exactly what to say. We will release the results and share more after it happens. Wish us luck!" Joshua Browder wrote.

Then he started getting threats.

"Bad news: after receiving threats from State Bar prosecutors, it seems likely they will put me in jail for 6 months if I follow through with bringing a robot lawyer into a physical courtroom. DoNotPay is postponing our court case and sticking to consumer rights," he wrote on Thursday.

He still believes in the technology to settle smaller disputes, such as fighting traffic tickets, which normally would not get the assistance of an attorney.

"Specifically, lowering medical bills, canceling subscriptions, disputing credit reports, among other things, with A.l. I think it's very important for companies to stay focused. Unlike courtroom drama, these types of cases can be handled online, are simple and are underserved," he wrote.

Experts say there are pros and cons to this idea.

“I can see some benefits of having tools that can assist people as they go to court for traffic tickets and other violations because, unfortunately, access to justice is a real problem in our society,” said Lee Tiedrich, a visiting professor of the practice of law at Duke University School of Law.

On the other hand, she said there are some risks. Bots don’t have an education and they’re not like a lawyer, who is subject to certain ethical guidelines.

“The machine is not unbiased. It learned from somewhere, so the output kind of depends on a lot of the data that it found,” said Kerstin Haring, the director of the Humane Robot Technology Lab at the University of Denver.

AI has been in the news a lot lately from AI-generated art to AI programs like ChatGPT, which has passed an MBA exam.

“It was not accessible to a broader population and now it is and it makes sense. It is very good at what it does,” Haring said about the growing use of artificial intelligence, which has been around since the 1950s in some capacity. “The bottom line is ‘What are humans doing with this?’.”

Experts say new tech can also be used in the wrong ways. As it evolves, regulations will have to evolve, too.

“I'm pretty confident we're going to start seeing more AI laws and regulations within the next year,” said Tiedrich. “It's forcing us as a society to figure out how can we create structures, legal policy structures, business norms, that enable us to capitalize on the benefits and mitigate the risks.”