Elon Musk's 2016 statement on Tesla autopilot safety is not a deepfake

By: Nikolaj Kristensen
May 4 2023

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Elon Musk's 2016 statement on Tesla autopilot safety is not a deepfake


The Verdict False

Elon Musk’s 2016 statements that Tesla models S and X can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person are not, as Tesla claims, deepfakes.

Claim ID adef6478


On April 27, Tesla lawyers appeared in court to argue that statements made by CEO Elon Musk about the safety of Tesla's autopilot system could be deepfakes. 

The argument was made in a case against the family of Walter Huang, who died in 2018 after crashing his Tesla Model X. Huang’s family claims the autopilot system in Huang’s car had malfunctioned, and the plaintiff’s attorneys have attempted to depose Musk on his statements regarding the safety of the autopilot system. 

One such statement comes from Vox Media’s Recode Code Conference in California which took place from May 31 to June 2, 2016, and later uploaded to YouTube. Musk said, “A Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person, right now.” 

Tesla argued that Musk was not required in court as the authenticity of the recordings could neither be admitted nor denied, as 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.”

In Fact

Musk took the stage at the Code Conference on June 2, 2016. Multiple images taken by attendees and shared on Twitter at the time confirm this.

According to the YouTube recording of the talk, Musk makes the alleged deepfake claim about autopilot safety at 1:19 minutes. At the exact same time, a Twitter user quotes him using the official hashtag for the conference, writing “Elon: Model S and Model X already provide a safer ride than a human driver. $TSLA #CodeCon,” confirming that Musk said this. Around the same time, the live blog for the event read, “Especially in traffic and on highways with no pedestrians, Musk thinks autonomous driving is already safer than a human.”

Not only was Musk’s talk at the conference recorded and uploaded to YouTube, but it also went out live on the Recode Facebook page, meaning any deepfake would have to have happened in real-time. Deepfakes were a relatively novel technology in 2016, and the term itself hadn’t even been coined yet. 

Court documents from April 27 show that Tesla “does not expect the file has been altered or manipulated,” but that the company just “cannot authenticate a non-Tesla document that it cannot independently validate.” 

Tesla did not respond to Logically Facts’ request for comment. The judge appointed to the case rejected Tesla’s deepfake argument, ruling that Musk will have to attend a deposition.

The Verdict

Musk’s appearance at the Code Conference is well-documented. The event was live-streamed and multiple sources report on his statement in question at the exact time it was delivered on stage. Therefore, we have marked this claim as false. 

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