Elon Musk’s statements about Tesla Autopilot could be ‘deepfakes’, lawyers claim | American news

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Elon Musk has been ordered to be interviewed under oath to determine whether he made any specific statements about Tesla’s Autopilot feature after the automaker questioned their authenticity, saying the billionaire was often targeted by online “deepfakes.”

A judge there California made the preliminary ruling after raising concerns that such arguments could be used by Musk — and other high-profile celebrities — to “avoid taking ownership” of their public statements.

The “deepfake” claim was made by lawyers from Musk’s firm while defending a lawsuit filed over the security of Teslathe driver assistance system.

Walter Huang’s family is suing the company in Santa Clara Superior Court over a car accident involving the Apple engineer in 2018.

Mr. Huang’s family claims that Tesla’s partially automated driving software failed.

However, the automaker claims that before the crash, the engineer was playing a video game on his phone and ignored the vehicle warnings.

Tesla factory in Fremont, California
The Tesla factory in Fremont, California

Lawyers for Mr. Huang’s family have pointed out that Musk praised the safety of the Autopilot feature – including a 2016 statement in which he reportedly said Tesla’s Model S and Model X vehicles “can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person”.

Musk’s lawyers say the entrepreneur cannot recall details of statements and have argued that “like many public figures, [he] has been the subject of many ‘deepfake’ videos and audio recordings purporting to show him saying and doing things he never actually said or did”.

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However, the judge presiding over the lawsuit, Evette Pennypacker, questioned Tesla’s argument, describing it as “deeply disturbing.”

“Their position is that because Mr. Musk is famous and may be more of a target for deepfakes, his public statements are immune,” Judge Pennypacker wrote.

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She added that such arguments would allow him and other famous people “to avoid taking ownership of what they actually said and did”.

Judge Pennypacker tentatively ordered a limited three-hour statement where Musk could be asked if he
actually made the statements on the recording.

What is a deep fake?

Deepfake usually involves an image or video in which a person or object is visually or audibly manipulated into saying and doing something that is made up.

They’ve been used to fake videos of Barack Obama calling Donald Trump a “complete dips**t” and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg bragging about having “complete control” over people’s data.

Deepfakes have also been used to create fake pornographic images of celebrities.

And there are concerns that they could be used to create mass panic or influence elections by making fake videos of politicians.

Some countries are even trying to crack down on deepfakes. In England and Wales, proposals have been made to make the unauthorized creation of pornographic deepfakes a criminal offence.

The images were created using AI technology, although experts are also trying to use AI to tackle deepfakes by creating technology that can more easily distinguish fact from fiction.

California judges often make preliminary rulings, which are almost always finalized after such a hearing with few major changes.

The trial will take place on July 31.

It comes after a California court jury found on Friday that Tesla’s Autopilot feature failed in what appeared to be the first lawsuit involving a crash involving the partially automated driving software.

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