Lawyers say Elon Musk 'target for deepfakes' as Tesla Autopilot lawsuit goes to trial

Elon Musk has been ordered to testify under oath over his comments about the safety and capabilities of Tesla's Autopilot.
Ameya Paleja
File photo of Elon Musk from 2022
File photo of Elon Musk from 2022.

USAF/ Wikimedia Commons 

Elon Musk's lawyers told a California court that the Tesla CEO is a "target for deep fakes" as they questioned the authenticity of remarks made by Musk about the Autopilot feature in 2016.

The court was hearing a complaint filed by the family of Walter Huang, who was killed in a car crash in 2018 that involved the Autopilot feature in his Tesla.

The Autopilot feature is an advanced driver assistance system in Tesla cars aimed to reduce the driver's workload. Tesla cars have eight external cameras and vision processing for this feature. However, the system's accuracy is hugely debated, and campaigns against the system also featured during Super Bowl this year.

The Role of Autopilot in a car crash

In 2018, Walter Huang, an Apple engineer, was involved in a car crash in Mountain View, California, when his Tesla steered out of the lane and hit a safety barrier that had been damaged before. The crash proved fatal for Huang but also brought the spotlight on the Autopilot feature, which is still in beta but supplied with Tesla cars.

Huang's family has argued that the car steered out of its lane due to the failure of the Autopilot feature on the Tesla, even as the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) investigation showed that Huang was playing a video game on his smartphone as the car used Autopilot to drive.

Lawyers for the Huang family were seeking to depose Elon Musk for his statement made at a conference in 2016, where he said, "A Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person. Right now.", The entire recording of the conference is available on YouTube.

Tesla's lawyers, however, have opposed the request for deposition by stating that Musk cannot recall the details of the statement and even questioned the authenticity of the recording. The lawyers further added that, like many public figures, Musk is a target for deep fake audios and videos which show him saying things he never actually said.

Judge Evette Pennypacker, however, has called Tesla's position "deeply troubling" and wrote in a tentative judgment that such arguments would allow Musk and other famous people "to avoid taking ownership of what they did actually say and do," Reuters reported.

The judge has ordered for a three-hour deposition where Musk could be asked whether he actually made the statements in the recordings. The lawsuit is scheduled to go on trial on July 31 and is expected to attract more scrutiny to the Autopilot feature.

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