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Tesla lawyers claim that Elon Musk made assertions in past about the safety of self-driving cars may have been nothing more than carefully crafted deepfakes.

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Elon Musk

Tesla seeks to prevent Musk’s deposition in a lawsuit blaming Autopilot for fatal crash of 2018, but Judge issues tentative order for testimony.

Tesla Autopilot software has long been a point of contention, with the automaker and its founder, Elon Musk, touting its capabilities as a game-changer in the automotive industry. However, lawyers for the company have recently raised a unique argument in defence of Musk’s statements about the software’s abilities – that they could be deep fakes.

The concept of deep fakes, or artificially manipulated media, has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, with advances in machine learning making it easier than ever to create convincing and realistic videos and audio recordings. As such, Tesla’s legal team has argued that Musk’s statements about the Autopilot software could have been digitally altered to make it seem as though he was endorsing a level of autonomy that the technology doesn’t actually possess.

Autopilot and fatal 2018 crash

This argument has been presented as part of a larger defense strategy in a lawsuit brought against Tesla by the family of Walter Huang, an Apple engineer who was killed in a crash while driving a Tesla Model X in 2018. Huang’s family alleges that the Autopilot software was at fault for the accident, and they are seeking to interview Musk about his public statements regarding the safety of the technology.

Specifically, the attorneys for Huang’s family point to an interview Musk gave in 2016 in which he claimed that “a Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person.” They argue that this statement, along with others made by Musk and other Tesla executives, misled consumers into believing that the Autopilot software was safer than it actually is.

Tesla, for its part, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and has argued that the accident was the result of Huang’s own negligence, rather than a flaw in the Autopilot software. The company has also pointed out that drivers who use Autopilot are required to remain alert and ready to take control of the vehicle at any moment, and that the technology is not yet capable of fully autonomous driving.

The use of deep fakes as a legal defense is a relatively new concept, and it remains to be seen how effective it will be in this case. However, it underscores the growing concern over the potential for digitally manipulated media to be used to sway public opinion and influence legal proceedings.

Are Musk’s statements Immune because he is popular?

According to a Reuters report, Tesla’s lawyers argued that Elon Musk could not recall the specifics of the claims made against him and pointed out that he is a public figure who is frequently targeted by ‘deep fake’ videos and audio recordings that falsely depict him saying and doing things. The lawyers stated, “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.” However, the judge presiding over the case expressed deep concern over this argument put forth by Tesla’s legal team.

According to the written statementby Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Evette D. Pennypacker Tesla’s legal team argued that Elon Musk’s public statements are immune to scrutiny due to his fame and susceptibility to deep fakes. However, the judge expressed concern over this stance, stating that it essentially allows public figures like Mr. Musk to make whatever claims they want in the public domain without taking responsibility for their actions. Judge Pennypacker went on to say that this argument creates a loophole that would allow anyone in a similar position to escape accountability for their words and actions.

Judge rubbishes the theory.

The Judge wrote  “Their position is that because Mr. Musk is famous and might be more of a target for deep fakes, his public statements are immune. 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.”

In a preliminary ruling, Judge Evette Pennypacker has ordered that Elon Musk provide a limited, three-hour deposition regarding the controversial statements made by him. While it is common for California judges to issue tentative rulings, it is expected that this decision will be upheld after the hearing scheduled for Thursday. The lawsuit, which centres around Musk’s statements, is set to go to trial on July 31. According to Reuters, this ruling is likely to be a significant development in the case and could have far-reaching consequences for public figures and their accountability for their public statements.

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