With Tesla up against an upcoming lawsuit related to a fatality involving its Autopilot system, it chose to resort to a strange defense surrounding CEO Elon Musk. In an attempt to keep Musk and his comments out of the case, the EV maker claims some of his previous public comments could have been deep fakes.
As the story goes, Apple engineer Walter Huang died in 2018 while driving a Tesla Model X. It was found that he had been using Tesla's Autopilot system when the vehicle seemingly struggled to identify lane markings properly and entered the median area instead, which resulted in the Tesla SUV driving into a barrier. The barrier didn't have a safety attenuator thanks to a previous incident, so the impact was even more severe.
An investigation conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that while the Model X was on Autopilot, the driver was at fault. The organization discovered that Huang had been playing a video game on his smartphone when the crash occurred. NHTSA also pointed attention to the missing crash attenuator.
Huang's family moved forward with suing Tesla. The family believes that CEO Elon Musk's public comments made Huang feel confident using Autopilot in this manner. He felt confident enough to play a video game, even though Tesla urges drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take control at all times. His family feels his confidence came from Musk's optimism about the technology.
Tesla doesn't want Musk to have to be involved in the case, nor his comments or statements used. For this reason, the automaker told the judge there was a chance some of those comments could have been "deep fakes." This means someone somehow put comments out there that seemed like they were from the real Elon Musk, though they may not have been.
According to Electrek, Judge Evette D. Pennypacker shot down Tesla's "deep fake" argument. She ruled that Musk will have to be available for a three-hour interview to go over his statements related to Autopilot and Tesla's Full Self-Driving beta. The judge said:
"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."
The lawsuit will go to trial later this year in Santa Clara County Superior Court.