According to reports from Reuters and Bloomberg, Tesla’s lawyers have contended that Elon Musk’s statements about the capabilities of the company’s Autopilot software may not be reliable as they could be deep fakes.
This argument was presented by Tesla as part of its defense in a lawsuit filed against the company over the death of Walter Huang, an Apple engineer who died in a fatal crash in 2018 while driving a Tesla Model X. The lawsuit claims that Tesla’s driver-assist software was at fault, and Huang’s family’s lawyers have sought to interview Musk regarding his statements about the software’s safety.
Musk’s past comments on the Autopilot software’s capabilities have been called into question, such as his statement in a 2016 interview that “a Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person.” Tesla’s lawyers argued that these statements cannot be trusted as they could be deep fakes. A video of Musk making this statement is available on YouTube.
Per Reuters, Tesla’s lawyers stated that Musk could not recall details about such claims and that, “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.” But the judge in the case said this argument by Tesla’s lawyers was “deeply troubling.”
“Their position is that because Mr. Musk is famous and might be more of a target for deep fakes, his public statements are immune,” wrote Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Evette D. Pennypacker. “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 to be a deep fake to avoid taking ownership of what they did actually say and do.”
Judge Evette Pennypacker tentatively ordered that Musk give a limited, three-hour deposition about these statements. Reuters notes that “California judges often issue tentative rulings, which are almost always finalized with few major changes after such a hearing.” A hearing is scheduled for Thursday to finalize the deposition and the lawsuit is set to go into trial on July 31.