Elon Musk's Statements on Tesla's Self-Driving Capabilities Might Be Deepfakes: Lawyers

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., departs court in San Francisco, California, US, on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. Investors suing Tesla and Elon Musk, its chief executive officer, argue that his August 2018 tweets about taking Tesla private with “funding secured” were “indisputably false” and cost them billions of dollars by spurring wild swings in Tesla’s stock price.

Elon Musk will more than likely be deposed about his own statements about the self-driving capabilities of Teslas in the lawsuit against him over a wrongful death, a California judge ruled Wednesday. That’s despite Musk’s lawyers arguing that their client is so famous, many of his statements might be deepfakes.

In case you missed it:

Were they alleging that these pre-2018 statements made by Musk are actually deepfakes? Nope! Just that they might be, because he is oh so very famous.


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Musk is being sued by the family of Walter Huang, an Apple engineer who died when his Model X crashed while in Autopilot mode, and then trapped him inside while the car burned. Tesla immediately blamed Huang for the crash, despite Autopilot mode being engaged during the initial collision.

The Huang family lawyers want Musk to testify to claims he made pre-2018 that might have led to Tesla owners overestimating the capabilities of their vehicles. Musk’s lawyers have a pretty hilarious argument against Musk testifying. From Reuters:

Musk will likely be asked about a 2016 statement cited by plaintiffs, in which he allegedly said: “A Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person. Right now.”

Tesla opposed the request in court filings, arguing that Musk cannot recall details about statements.

In addition Musk, “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,” Tesla said.

It’s not like he named the actual software for Tesla’s Level II Advanced Driver Assistance Systems “Autopilot” and spent the last nine years promising fully self-driving Teslas or anything obviously misleading like that.

Judge Evette Pennypacker wasn’t having it, and released a tentative order (California courts release tentative orders before final orders. These final orders rarely deviate from the tentative order) for a limited deposition to determine if Musk actually made these statements or not. Pennypacker is definitely not thrilled with this defense:

“Their position is that because Mr. Musk is famous and might be more of a target for deep fakes, his public statements are immune,” Pennypacker wrote, adding that such arguments would allow Musk and other famous people “to avoid taking ownership of what they did actually say and do.”

The plaintiffs also claim that Musk finalized the details of a 2016 promotional video that states, “The car is driving itself.” The video displayed some features that did not exist at the time, the plaintiffs said, citing multiple Tesla engineers.

Indeed, that video was fake, but not in the way Musk’s lawyers hint at here. The infamous 2016 autopilot video which supposedly showed no driver in the car, was rumored to be staged. Recently, a Tesla engineer even testified to helping stage the video. You’d think if such videos were faked by bad-faith actors, Tesla would have said so from the get go, maybe even back in 2016!

This is the same company that charged its customers upwards of $15,0000 for Full Self-Driving Beta software and when disgruntled buyers sued Tesla were told that FSD Beta was “aspirational,” rather than a product that does what it says on the label. And this is certainly not Tesla’s only legal battle at the moment. Not by a long shot. Tesla is facing legal troubles from the state of California, the National Highway Traffic Administration, and the Department of Justice all have ongoing investigations or legal challenges against Tesla. All of them involve Tesla’s ADAS systems. Customers are also bringing a class-action lawsuit against Tesla after it was discovered the company was basically spying on them via their cars.

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