A Deepfake Did It!
Tesla's lawyers have made an eyebrow-raising argument in defense of CEO Elon Musk: that statements he allegedly made over the safety of the automaker's Autopilot driver assistance system could simply be deepfakes, Reuters reports.
The argument was made in an ongoing lawsuit against Tesla filed in 2019 over a fatal car crash that killed Walter Huang, who was driving a Tesla Model X at the time of the accident.
Huang's family alleges that Autopilot was partly to blame for why the vehicle veered off the road and slammed into a concrete barrier, as Huang, apparently distracted by a game on his phone, had believed Musk's bold claims over Autopilot's capabilities and safety.
The plaintiffs have spotlighted one statement in particular, which they believe demonstrates Musk's dangerous penchant for exaggerating the autonomy of Tesla's cars.
"A Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person," Musk said at a 2016 conference, after saying autonomy is "really easy" on highways that have barriers.
You can quite plainly hear Musk say this in an official video of the conference, so you'd think it'd be silly to equivocate over whether he actually said this.
A Failed Way Out
But Tesla's lawyers, seemingly in an attempt to squirm Musk out of being interviewed under oath about the remarks, have resorted to crying "deepfake!'" — even though at the time of his statement, the technology was still a few years away from entering the mainstream.
"While at first glance it might seem unusual that Tesla could not admit or deny the authenticity of video and audio recordings purportedly containing statements by Mr. Musk, the reality is he, 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 lawyers wrote in a court filing last week, as quoted by Ars Technica.
If you think that argument sounds like a slippery slope that would potentially exonerate public figures of accountability for their actions, well, you're not alone.
California judge Evette Pennypacker isn't buying Tesla's creative excuse either, and has tentatively ordered Musk to appear for a three hour deposition.
"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. "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."
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