Tesla Lawyers Claim Musk’s Autopilot Promises Could Be Deepfakes, Judge Doesn’t Buy It

Crying “FUD!” doesn’t work in court.

byJames Gilboy|
2017 Tesla Model X destroyed in the crash that killed Apple engineer Walter Huang
via Twitter

A California judge is preparing to order Tesla CEO Elon Musk to deliver a deposition under oath in a trial over a fatal Autopilot crash that killed an Apple engineer in 2018. Musk's lawyers have claimed that the plaintiffs' case is built on evidence they suggest to be "deepfakes," an insinuation that the judge presiding over the case has described as "deeply troubling."

The deposition would be part of the lawsuit over the death of Wei Lun "Walter" Huang, who died after his 2017 Tesla Model X hit a concrete barrier outside San Francisco. Huang was driving the vehicle with Autopilot active and playing a game on his phone, according to the National Transportation Safety Board investigators.

Tesla Model X. Tesla

In the lawsuit, Huang's family argues that Autopilot failed. Per The Telegraph, the family has sought documents from Tesla that substantiate its and its CEO's claims regarding the capabilities of its automated driving technologies.

In 2016, Tesla released a video purporting to show a car "driving itself," which former employees say was staged, reportedly under orders from Musk himself. The executive personally stated in 2016 that Tesla vehicles, including Huang's, "can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person, right now." That Tesla and Musk may have oversold the capabilities of Autopilot is the basis of the plaintiffs' argument that Autopilot is liable for the death of Huang.

Tesla Model X. Tesla

The judge overseeing the lawsuit, Judge Evette Pennypacker of the Superior Court of Santa Clara County, is reportedly preparing a tentative order for a three-hour deposition under oath from Musk. Tesla's lawyers reportedly attempted to head off the order, alleging that Musk may be unable to recall his prior statements on Autopilot.

"Like many public figures, [Musk] 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's lawyers reportedly argued. As Gizmodo noted though, the evidence above predates the existence of artificially generated "deepfakes."

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Pennypacker reportedly criticized this claim, stating, "their position is that because Mr. Musk is famous and might be more of a target for deep fakes, his public statements are immune," according to reports.

"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 trial is scheduled to begin July 31. Tesla also faces investigations from multiple federal bodies over the capabilities of its automated driving systems, including the NHTSA and Department of Justice.

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