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Fairfax County may expand court access with remote kiosks, artificial intelligence

Fairfax County Courthouse (staff photo by James Jarvis)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is considering using kiosks equipped with artificial intelligence to provide select legal information in a variety of languages.

The kiosks would feature a virtual assistant that could answer frequently asked questions using a closed-AI system (as distinct from open AI), according to Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who introduced a board matter on the kiosks at the board’s March 19 meeting.

“The distinction is that we will program the answers to frequently asked questions into the system using curated templates and language,” Lusk told FFXnow. “The AI program will not be creating its own answers.”

None of the questions are finalized yet, but they could help users identify forms and address other process-related queries. The virtual assistant would also be available online, and both resources would have accessibility features.

County and court staff are reviewing the kiosks and online AI program, and the board voted on March 19 to direct staff to finalize its review and report back. The county also plans to reach out to relevant nonprofits to assist in testing the kiosks, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said at the meeting.

The kiosks and online resource would be an “extension” of the self-help resource center that the county rolled out in October, according to Lusk’s board matter. Staff at the resource center can explain court operations, provide contact information for legal services and answer some general questions.

The resource center launched to assist county residents who are representing themselves in court. The new resources could help residents who aren’t able to travel to the center, which is located in the Fairfax County Courthouse (4110 Chain Bridge Road), though no kiosk locations have been selected.

“Personally, I feel it could be beneficial to be placed in government facilities that are remote from the Fairfax County Government Center and the Fairfax County Courthouse,” Lusk said by email, citing the Gerry Highland Government Center (8350 Richmond Highway) or Franconia Governmental Center (6121 Franconia Road) as examples. “We know that people live great distances from the Government Center and Courthouse, which limits the accessibility of these services.”

The board matter passed unanimously, despite a public meeting notice issue that McKay said left some board members without the opportunity to see the kiosks. Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik also said she was concerned about making sure the kiosks were fully vetted before they’re implemented.

The topic will come to the board’s health and human services committee for additional discussion, though the board didn’t specify a date. The committee’s next meeting is currently scheduled for June 4.

Testing the kiosk with actual users and not rushing the process will be important, McKay said, adding that the county should also plan to reach out to the state about support for the program.

“What we don’t want to do is just rush in and further complicate and frustrate people where there’s a misinterpretation and they’re getting the wrong documents that they need to help their case,” McKay said.

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