Even Brexit needs AI

Right now, there are around 3.3 millions EU citizens in the UK.

Think about what that could mean just for the Home Office after Brexit. If the government was to require all EU citizens to apply for permanent residency allowing them to live and work in the country, the Home Office would suddenly have to deal with a tsunami of additional applications.

And that’s not to mention other applications including work visas, student visas, family-related visas, asylum applications, and visitors’ visas the Home Office routinely deals with. Based on official figures, that adds up to about 2.3 million applications per year.

Coming out of visa-related forums, it appears there’s a huge numbers of incorrect applications refused because of human errors: wrong application forms filled, wrong types of application requested, incorrect information, inconsistent answers, missing supporting documents, or even non-standard photos.

With applicants waiting for up to 6 months just to get informed that they have made those mistakes, and have to start their application process all over again, it’s a recipe for confusion and frustration for all. And it could be overwhelming.

Will the Home Office be able to deal with a massive increase in the number of applications? And what could the Home Office do to increase their efficiency while maintaining customer service?

So, what technology could help this situation? The solution may be close at hand. The emergence of AI (artificial intelligence) especially in NLP (natural language processing) from several technology providers offers some hope of relief.  Platforms such as IBM Watson, LUIS from Microsoft, Api.ai from google, and even Alexa from Amazon allow business as well as public services to access and create solutions that were not thinkable or achievable 5 years ago. 

In this scenario, AI could greatly help EU citizens or any other applicants to navigate through the Home Office’s complex processes.  As if they were talking to a trusted advisor guiding them step by step. Not only will people benefit from this, but the Home Office also can save a lot of money and time spent on processing refused applications. And then there’s the cost savings for call centre agents and telecoms arising from the decreasing number of calls received.

You might think that this idea is great but unachievable. It may surprise you that there are already existing chatbots providing similar services in the real world.

The ‘DoNotPay’ chatbot originally created by London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, overturns parking fines. Now it has been enhanced to provide free legal support to help refugees fill in an immigration application.

How does it actually work, you might wonder?  Basically, at the beginning of the chat, the bot asks the user a series of questions to identify the right application form the refugee has to fill out. The chatbot also validates if a refugee is eligible for that particular application. The chatbot will continue to ask for information that needs to be filled in.  It uses plain English rather than the complicated language from the form. Once all required details are gathered, the bot will auto-fill an application form for the user. And if you’re worried about data privacy, the bot will destroy all the data on its servers within 10 minutes once the application is sent.

Sounds like a great idea, right? I won’t be surprised if this chatbot idea is actually already in the Home Office implementation plan, or if they are currently developing it, since other public service providers in the UK have started to exploit the power of AI (artificial intelligence) in their service channels. The use of Robot Amelia in the London Borough of Enfield, or the use of chatbots in NHS London for example.

The only question for the Home Office is when.

Ploy Suthileelakul