Cambridge Students Build a "Lawbot" to Advise Sexual Assault Victims

The Guardian
November 9, 2016

LawBot: the creation of Ludwig Bull, Rebecca Agliolo, Nadial Abdul and Jozef Maruscak. Photograph: LawBot

“Hi, I’m LawBot, a robot designed to help victims of crime in England.”

While volunteering at a school sexual consent class, Ludwig Bull, a law student at the University of Cambridge, was inspired to build a chatbot that offers free legal advice to students. He enlisted the help of four coursemates, and Lawbot was designed and built in just six weeks.

The program is still in beta, but Bull hopes it will help victims of crime, at Cambridge and beyond, to get justice. “A victim can talk to our artificially intelligent chatbot, receive a preliminary assessment of their situation, and then decide which available actions to pursue,” he says.

Bull explains that he was motivated by the alarming figures on sexual assault in the UK, where it is estimated that two thirds of offences go unreported, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). The problem is especially urgent at universities, with the scale of abuse recently likened to the cases of Jimmy Savile or the Catholic church.

“Sexual assault was the first kind of offence we dealt with,” he says. “Much confusion surrounds the nature of consent. Individuals may feel as though they have been assaulted, but not actually be sure of their legal position.”

The program uses randomised, “empathetic” language choices, written in consultation with real-life therapists and psychologists. But the bot is unlikely to put flesh-and-blood criminal defence lawyers out of work any time soon. It has more in common with DoNotPay, the chatbot lawyer that helps with parking ticket appeals, designed by 19 year-old Joshua Browder. One difference, however, is that LawBot’s creators aim to address a wide range of criminal offences.

Given the complexity of the law, and the preference for simplicity when it comes to AI programming, it’s an ambitious project. “We’d like to expand to other areas of civil law, and we’re already in touch with German universities,” Bull says. “But we’re not out to make a program that provides a too-complex analysis. We really want to keep it as a starting point for victims.”

The team is planning a soft launch next week – and then users will be the judge of how helpful LawBot could really be.

Keep up with the latest on Guardian Students: follow us on Twitter at @GdnStudents – and become a member to receive exclusive benefits and our weekly newsletter.








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.