Elon Musk's past statements about self-driving safety could feasibly be deepfakes, Tesla lawyers told court

Tesla CEO Elon Musk presented the first batch of made-in-China cars to ordinary buyers on January 7, 2020 in Shanghai.
Elon Musk.Getty Images
  • Tesla is being sued by the widow of an Apple engineer who died in a 2018 car crash.

  • The lawsuit cites statements from Elon Musk promoting the safety of Tesla's self-driving software.

  • But Tesla's lawyers say they can't confirm if he ever said that, because they could be deepfakes.

Tesla's lawyers say that Elon Musk's past statements about the safety of its self-driving feature can't be trusted because they could be deepfakes, per court filings seen by Insider.

The electric car company is being sued by Sz Hua Huang, whose husband Walter Huang died in a car crash in 2018.

The lawsuit – which was first submitted to the Santa Clara County Superior Court in 2019 – alleges that Tesla's autopilot feature was defective, and accelerated Huang's car into a concrete barrier after misreading highway lane lines.


Huang's lawyers want to interview Musk about statements he made promoting the capabilities of Tesla's self-driving software.

Per Reuters, that includes a speech from a 2016 conference, when he said: "A Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person right now."

But Tesla's lawyers say they don't know whether or not Musk actually said any of those things.

"At first glance it might seem unusual that Tesla could not admit or deny the authenticity of video and audio recordings purportedly contain statements by Mr. Musk," they wrote in an April 20 court filing seen by Insider.

"The reality is he, like many public figures, is the subject of many 'deepfake' videos and audio recordings that purport to show him saying and doing things he never actually said or did."

On Wednesday, Judge Evette Pennypacker said these arguments were "deeply troubling" and tentatively ordered Musk to be interviewed under oath for three hours about whether he made the statements, Reuters reported.

"Their position is that because Mr. Musk is famous and might be more of a target for deepfakes, his public statements are immune," Pennypacker wrote, per Reuters.

"In other words, Mr. Musk, and others in his position, can simply say whatever they like in the public domain, then hide behind the potential for their recorded statements being a deep fake to avoid taking ownership of what they did actually say and do," the judge added.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial on July 31.

Tesla and an attorney for Huang did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment, sent outside US working hours.

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