Bots for the greater good: 6 chatbots making the world a better place

By | 6 minute read | June 19, 2017

Key Points:
– This post highlighting 6 bots that are powering social good for everyone, not just businesses.
– These include bots that help people solve legal issues, get therapy, quit smoking and learn to meditate.
– We’re also highlighting a bot that helps inform voters about voting locations.
– The possibilities are endless. What type of chatbot will you build?

Chatbots are great for customer service, ordering tickets, or just giving you weather updates, but others have nobler goals for their bots. Here are 6 bots, developed using a variety of technologies and APIs, and delivered via different interfaces, that are helping improve the world for everyone.

1. DoNotPay: Get free legal help in under 30 seconds

DoNotPay started out as a cheeky service to help drivers get out of parking tickets. Stanford student Joshua Browder became more interested in bots after the online tool automatically challenged over 160,000 of them. People began contacting him asking for help with other legal issues relating to evictions, bankruptcies, and repossessions, so he decided to expand the capabilities of the bot to help homeless people.

Rather than making users fill out a lengthy form, Browder used a natural language interface to gather the data needed to fill out the form. He then used IBM Watson’s Conversation service which helped him improve accuracy by 30%. Browder was only 19 years old when he created this app and Watson’s cognitive APIs helped him build stronger AI into his app in a matter of just weeks. He has since turned his attention to other areas of law, including resolving landlord and travel disputes.

Browder mined 15 years of affordable housing application data, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Then he programmed DoNotPay to ask users personal questions relating to their stated problem. For example, it may ask a resident facing eviction “do you have a right to live here?”. It might ask a person seeking housing “are you legally homeless,” while providing them with a legal definition. It then takes this information and creates an application based on previous success rates, using one of seven default claim letters. His goal with the service is to offer a replacement for what he sees as a subset of predatory lawyers that charge heavy fees to do little more than file paperwork.

Since his success with DoNotPay, Browder, dubbed the ‘Robin Hood of the Internet’ by the BBC, has expanded it to give free legal aid to refugees seeking asylum in the US, Canada and UK.

2. Woebot: Your 24×7 Chatbot Therapist

Created by a team of Stanford psychologists and AI experts, Woebot uses sh0rt chat conversations, sentiment and tone analysis and word games to help people who are looking for inexpensive therapy. Wombat Labs Inc. just launched the commercial version of the chatbot this June. The first 14 sessions with the bot therapist are free after which they offer tiered pricing of $6 – $12 per week depending on what plan you sign up for.

Wombat’s creators gave the bot a fun, casual and friendly personality. For example their website says Woebot is “…ready to listen, 24/7. No couches, no meds, no childhood stuff. Just strategies to improve your mood. And the occasional dorky joke.

Wombat uses a combination of natural language processing, therapeutic expertise, personalized content, and sense of humor to “create the experience of a therapeutic conversation for all of the people that use him.”

The company describes their service as below:

“Woebot is an automated conversational agent (chatbot) who helps you monitor mood and learn about yourself. Drawing from a therapeutic framework known as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Woebot asks people how they’re feeling and what is going on in their lives in the format of brief daily conversations. Woebot also talks to you about mental health and wellness and sends you videos and other useful tools depending on your mood and needs at that moment. You can think of Woebot as a choose-your-own-adventure self-help book that is capable of storing all of your entries, and gets more specific to your needs over time.”

You can sign up for Woebot directly on their website at

3. U-Report: Your voice matters

Across the world, young people are concerned about a variety of issues, ranging from climate change to the economy. Unicef created its own bot, U-Report, to give them a voice. The bot, available via Twitter and Facebook Messenger, polls its followers (called ‘U-Reporters’) on a range of topics. The idea is to gather opinion and experiences from these young participants, who now number over three million, and use them to help influence public policy.

U-Report regularly sends out polls on a variety of issues, and assesses the results based on demographic data provided by U-Reporters when they sign up.

The pollster bot has achieved some notable results. In Liberia, it asked 13,000 young people if teachers at their schools were exchanging grades for sex. 86% said yes, uncovering an endemic problem and prompting Liberia’s Minister of Education to work with UNICEF on stamping it out.

4. Quitxt: Helping users quit smoking

It is 2017, and despite smoking bans and punitive taxes, people still continue to light up. Could a chatbot help people to quit smoking? Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio’s Institute for Health Promotion Research hopes so. She created Quitxt, an SMS-based quitbot designed to help addicted puffers deal with their cravings.

Targeting young adults aged 18-29, the bot consistently encourages smokers to give up and not look back. Smokers can set their quit date and embark on an 8-10 week program, receiving between three and seven text messages per day for the first two weeks, gradually reducing over time. In addition to encouraging words, the bot also provides tips for managing stress and building a support network. Participants can expect links to mobile webpages designed to help people give up smoking.

5. MeditateBot: Creating a daily meditation habit

While some bots exist to help you stop a habit, others want to help you start one. Entrepreneur Eric Rems created MeditateBot as a Facebook Messenger tool to help him remember to meditate. Meditation is a proven health technique, and helps practitioners to remain mindful throughout the day, reducing stress and conflict.

Developed over a weekend, the chatbot teaches the benefits of meditation and advises on different kinds. It also enables people to schedule daily meditation reminders. When creating the bot, Rems focused on keeping the barrier to entry low by not imposing too many requirements on users early on. He avoided collecting too much information from them, so that they could begin using the bot easily without filling out forms that would create a hurdle for them to begin using the bot.

He enabled them to choose when they meditate, and let them choose how long. He also limited the available options. “I’ve seen too many apps that have an endless amounts of options, this makes it hard to select the “right” one — which causes frustration,” he said.

Over 500,000 users have been busy chilling out and improving their mental health using the chatbot, so he must be doing something right.

6. MSSG Voting Bot: Getting people to their voting locations

One organization has proven that technology can have a positive effect on democracy. Digital marketing firm @Mssg created a Facebook Messenger bot for the Connecticut House Democratic Campaign Committee that enabled voters to find their voting location quickly and easily.

The Connecticut HDDC bot enabled voters to submit their address in a conversation on the organization’s Messenger page, and returned the actual voting location, along with a Google Map. What better way to support the democratic process?

The possibilities are endless. What type of chatbot can you build?

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