It never ends — yet another use for AI and ChatGPT: Getting out of a parking ticket

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THERE SEEMS TO BE NO END to the creative (some might say strange) uses for Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT.

Here’s a new one I had not heard of before: appealing a New York City parking ticket.

Wilfred Chan, writing in Fast Company, told his tale in a story titled I asked ChatGPT to contest my parking ticket. What followed was a thing of beauty.

Here’s how he described the situation:

“Like most New York City car owners, I park on the street year-round, a notoriously competitive affair. Many of the spots are free as long as you move your car once or twice a week for street cleaning. But parking rules in the nation’s densest city are complex, and subtle mistakes can land you hefty penalties that can sometimes require a skilled lawyer to contest.

My situation this time was a little tricky: I had parked in what would otherwise be considered an “unmarked crosswalk” — that is, an area without painted lines, but between two pedestrian ramps. But because I was at a “T-intersection” with no signs or traffic lights, the area wasn’t actually a crosswalk under New York City law. That was a subtlety that my human traffic cop clearly hadn’t noticed — but something I was hoping to convey to a chatbot.”

Using ChatGPT to contest a parking ticket

Mr. Chan fed the city’s legal definition of a crosswalk into GPT-4, described how he had parked, then asked, “Did I park in a crosswalk?” ChatGPT responded with this: “In your case, the roadway ended at the intersection and there were no traffic control devices. Therefore, according to the definition, you did not park in an unmarked crosswalk.”

After testing the answer with a few related parts of the New York City parking law, Wilfred Chan asked ChatGPT to write a letter contesting the parking violation “based on the information that I told you.” The rest was simple:

“What followed was a thing of beauty. GPT-4 produced a perfectly formatted letter to a judge that methodically laid out the relevant statutes and why my parking spot should not be considered a crosswalk. It even included a line referencing photo evidence and a respectful sign-off.

All I had to do was fill in my name, add my photos, and upload it to the city’s website. The whole process took about an hour.

The result arrived via email: “NOT GUILTY.” The judge included a summary of his decision. “This is a persuasive defense,” he wrote. “Respondent submits credible testimony and documentary evidence demonstrating that the vehicle was not in violation . . . Summons dismissed.”

I felt giddy — I’m practically a lawyer now. I wondered, what did real lawyers think? Did we even need them anymore?”

You win on evidence – NOT because of ChatGPT

The rest of the article is about Mr. Chan discussing all of this with “a well-known New York City parking-ticket lawyer who says he’s fought ‘thousands’ of tickets over the past 15 years.” The attorney makes a good point – it wasn’t the ChatGPT letter that won the case, but the visual evidence, like photos of the parking job and a precise, well-labeled street diagram.

As the attorney noted, “Without the evidence, without the exhibits, you’re going to lose.” 

Mr. Chan’s response?

What initially felt to me like a technological triumph started to feel a little more underwhelming. AI hadn’t turned me into a lawyer; it simply provided a different route to an end product I’d already envisioned.

Is this what we want AI to be doing?

Here’s the real lesson from this: AI and ChatGPT can probably handle a lot of tasks that people can do now, and we’re entering a period wherwe’ll get a big kick out of how cool it is to see AI do that. The technology will wow us all.

However, it begs the question: Is this what we want Artificial Intelligence to be doing?

As Jon Choi, a lawyer and University of Minnesota professor researching law and artificial intelligence, told Wilfred Chan:

“This isn’t a formal brief before the Supreme Court; you’re just stating the case in plain English. And it sounds like you got smart on the law. You understood why you were not in violation of the law. And you could have actually written the letter yourself.”

That’s the big lesson here, and it’s one we‘ve learned before.

You don’t need cool, transformative technology to handle something you could easily do – and hopefully learn from – yourself.

We need to remember that as we wade deeper into the new world of AI.

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