AI pioneer will advise chatbot startup that provides free legal advice to immigrants

Dr. Yoshua Bengio, one of the key researchers credited with establishing the field of deep learning, announced today that he will serve as a strategy adviser for legal tech company Botler AI, a Montreal-based startup that runs a free chatbot to assist users as they navigate the legal procedures required for immigration.

“I knew this was an idea that we needed to take to the next level,” Bengio said in today’s press release. “I want AI to be developed towards positive social impact and this is one place where beneficial AI must happen.” The techniques pioneered by Bengio and others have led to breakthroughs in natural language comprehension and translation, abilities that are critical to this kind of chatbot. “Deep Learning could help provide affordable or even free legal services to people who might otherwise not be able to have access,” he said.

Botler was founded by Amir Moravej, a software engineer from Iran. Moravej moved to Canada to pursue graduate study and to work in tech, but he struggled when confronting the intricacies of the formal immigration process. When his work permit expired, he had to leave Canada until the government was able to review his application for permanent residency. He created Botler not with the ambition to launch a new startup, but with the hope of building a bot that could help himself and others like him.

“The moment that I had to leave, I realized that this whole immigration system and the legal procedures behind that is very complicated, and I wanted to learn more about the process,” he recalls. So, he immersed himself in government websites and online discussion boards.

Confronted with “an overload of information” that was difficult to parse, Moravej found inspiration for Botler, which was initially launched last June as an FAQ chatbot that could provide answers to users’ immigration-related questions. Botler has since evolved, and in February, it was relaunched as a chatbot that can lead users through the entire process of completing their immigration application.

A post shared by Immigration at your fingertips (@botler_ai) on Dec 31, 2016 at 8:27am PST

“The main goal of launching the chatbot at that time was to help students who got affected by the new immigration policy changes in the US,” says Moravej. After President Trump issued an executive order on January 27th banning nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days, Botler AI moved up its relaunch date to assist students from those seven countries in Canada who had initially planned to continue their studies in the US.

For now, Botler still provides assistance only to those applying for residency in Quebec, but Moravej says he has plans for significant expansion, especially now that Dr. Bengio, a professor at the University of Montreal and head of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, has stepped into the role of strategy adviser (though he is not an employee of the company).

“We are extremely lucky now to have him on board,” Moravej says.

Moravej adds that his team will use deep learning “to empower Botler AI’s natural language understanding, image recognition, and document classification,” as well as “help us move towards a general chatbot in the legal field, and understand more languages.”

In addition to extending Botler’s immigration-related services to locations outside of Quebec, Moravej aims to expand Botler’s reach into other legal domains that affect consumers’ daily lives, like family law or other interactions between people and the government. The startup partnered with a Canadian immigration law firm while producing the current iteration of Botler, and Moravej plans to continue collaborating with lawyers to provide the legal knowledge necessary for his company’s services.

“Our goal now is not just to stay in immigration,” he says. “The whole legal system and legal procedures are really complicated for average consumers, and the only alternative right now is to hire a lawyer, which is very expensive, and what we want to do is make legal services really, really affordable or, in many cases, free for everyone.”

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