A California judge has tentatively ordered Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, to be interviewed under oath about whether he made certain statements regarding the capabilities of Tesla’s Autopilot features after the company questioned the authenticity of the remarks, claiming Musk is a “target for deep fakes”. The ruling came in a lawsuit against Tesla, filed by the family of Walter Huang who was killed in a car crash in 2018.
Background of the Case
Huang’s family argues that Tesla’s partially automated driving software failed. The carmaker contends that Huang was playing a video game on his phone before the crash and disregarded vehicle warnings. The attorneys for Huang’s family sought to depose Musk regarding recorded statements from 2016 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.”
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Tesla’s Objection to the Request
Tesla opposed the request in court filings, arguing that Musk cannot recall details about the statement and questioning the authenticity of the recording. “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. This is not unexpected given the increasing use of deepfake technology. Deep Fakes leverage artificial intelligence to manipulate videos or audio recordings to make it seem as though an individual said or did something that they did not. The rise of this technology has raised concerns about the potential for misinformation and the ability to deceive people. However, Tesla’s argument suggests that public figures may attempt to use deepfake technology to evade responsibility for their public statements.
Judge Evette Pennypacker tentatively ordered a limited, three-hour deposition where Musk could be asked whether he actually made the statements on the recordings, and called Tesla’s arguments “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,” 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”.
Tesla’s Autopilot System
The lawsuit is scheduled to go into trial on 31 July, adding to growing legal and regulatory scrutiny over Tesla’s Autopilot system. A California state court jury on Friday found Autopilot did not fail in what appeared to be the first trial related to a crash involving the software.
Implications of the Judge’s Decision
The judge’s decision to order Musk’s deposition is significant because it could shed light on whether Tesla misled customers about the capabilities of its Autopilot system. It also highlights the challenges faced by courts and regulators when dealing with emerging technologies like autonomous driving, where the line between human responsibility and machine responsibility is not always clear.
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The order for Musk’s deposition is a significant development in the ongoing lawsuit against Tesla, and it will be interesting to see how the case unfolds in the coming months. The outcome could have implications not only for Tesla but for the entire autonomous driving industry, as regulators and lawmakers grapple with how to balance innovation and safety.