Musk Creates FSD School, Gets Schooled On Free Speech

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Over the past weekend, Tesla began rolling out the latest version of its Full Self Driving software in North America. Then on Monday, several emails from Elon Musk got leaked on social media which show he is making it mandatory in North America to install and activate the latest version of FSD on vehicles and take customers on a “short test ride before handing over the car. I know this will slow down the delivery process, but it is nonetheless a hard requirement,” Musk wrote to Tesla employees, citing concerns about customers being unfamiliar with the Tesla system’s capabilities. “This is very important.”

According to Investor’s Business Daily, Tesla announced late Monday that it is offering a one-month free trial of FSD in the US with the purchase of a new vehicle. The free trial is available for new orders of the Model Y, Model S, and Model X. “All US cars that are capable of FSD will be enabled for a one month trial this week,” Musk posted on his privately owned social media site late on Monday.

The news gave Tesla stock a modest bump, as those who have been praying for the robotaxis Musk has been promising for the past six years to finally arrive see this as an answer to their prayers. Transport Topics said the directive from Musk shows how Tesla is tightening the reins on technology that is both a significant source of revenue and a magnet for controversy. The automaker has drawn scrutiny over its marketing of features with names such as Full Self-Driving and Autopilot, which suggest the cars drive themselves despite requiring fully attentive drivers to keep their hands on the wheel.

Musk said in the memo that “almost no one actually realizes how well [supervised] FSD actually works.” The move also could help justify the cost of FSD, which Tesla sells for $12,000. The company promises in marketing materials that “your car will be able to drive itself almost anywhere with minimal driver intervention and will continuously improve.” Sharp eyed readers will notice that implies a capability more like Level 3 or Level 4 autonomy, a bold claim if true.

Is This Just A Marketing Ploy?

There may be another side to this however. Tesla has been aggressively cutting prices for its cars to boost demand. Convincing people to pop for an extra $12,000 would go a long way toward juicing the company’s profitability at a time when its financials are under pressure. At the present time, less than 20% of new Tesla drivers opt for FSD, so any increase in customer uptake would be welcome.

Musk clearly thinks the latest version of the Full Self Driving software is pretty good and solves some of the issues people have reported after using it. On the other hand, Musk and Tesla have been sued by a number of people who claim Full Self Driving or Autopilot failed to perform as advertised, leading to serious injury and death. Until now, Musk has steadfastly refused to rely on anything more than some cautionary language in the owner’s manual and some sterner warnings on the touchscreen when drivers use the systems incorrectly.

Maybe, just maybe, this is Musk seeking to insulate the company from future claims by saying people were required to get a test drive that explained the software to them in a much more direct and concrete way, obviating their ability later to say the workings of the system were never explained to them. Really, raise your hand if you have read the owner’s manual for your car cover to cover? Hmmmm….not many of you it seems.

Musk And Free Speech

Elon goes on and on (an on) about how he is a free speech absolutist, which apparently, in his mind, means people can say whatever they want at any time on any subject without restraint. The racists, white supremacists, misogynists, and fascists of the world take full advantage of that attitude on Musk’s private social media platform. But the lie at the heart of Musk’s free speech policies was exposed for all to see when that platform sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a non-profit that researches hate speech online and promotes civil discourse.

On its website, CCDH says, “Our research is transforming social media platforms to free them from hate, misinformation, and abuse. These changes are vital to creating safer and better digital spaces, protecting people from harmful content. We are reshaping the digital landscape by working with policymakers and civil society organizations worldwide to promote online civil liberties. These changes are essential for establishing a regulatory framework that ensures safety by design, transparency, accountability, and responsibility from platforms and their executives.”

CCDH had the temerity to publish a report last July that claimed the social network was profiting from hate after Musk reinstated scores of previously suspended accounts of “neo-Nazis, white supremacists, misogynists and spreaders of dangerous conspiracy theories.” X alleged that the group improperly gained access to data about X and that its claims influenced advertisers to spend less money on the site, costing X tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Federal District Court judge Charles Breyer wrote in a 52 page ruling. “X Corp. has brought this case in order to punish CCDH for CCDH publications that criticized X Corp. — and perhaps in order to dissuade others who might wish to engage in such criticism.” Breyer dismissed the suit under California’s strict laws against what are known as SLAPPs, or strategic lawsuits against public participation. The judge did not mince words in his finding that the suit lacked merit and appeared to be a blatant attempt to intimidate researchers and critics, according to the Washington Post.

“Sometimes it is unclear what is driving a litigation, and only by reading between the lines of a complaint can one attempt to surmise a plaintiff’s true purpose,” Breyer wrote. “Other times, a complaint is so unabashedly and vociferously about one thing that there can be no mistaking that purpose. This case represents the latter circumstance. This case is about punishing the Defendants for their speech.”

Imran Ahmed, the head of CCDH, cheered Breyer’s ruling, telling the Washington Post it was a “complete victory” that should “embolden” public interest researchers everywhere to continue their work. “It is quite clear that this was an unconstitutional attempt to shut down the free speech of critics of Elon Musk, by Elon Musk, a self-proclaimed ‘free-speech absolutist,’” Ahmed said. “It’s an enormous relief to the team at CCDH that we now can continue our mission to hold these companies accountable.”

The Takeaway

I already know a few readers are dipping their pens in acid to accuse me of being biased and a “Musk hater.” Several will launch unto long litanies that extol the accomplishments of the Great and Powerful Musk. But this case makes it clear he is a “do as I say, not as I do” sort of person — a hypocrite, in other words. It also makes it clear that Musk will do anything and say anything to try to boost ad revenue to pay the colossal carrying cost of his social media platform and that being a “free speech absolutist” is a relative term for him. He is for it when it is to his advantage but opposed to it when it’s a detriment.

No one is too vile, too hate filled, or too venomous for Musk to try to leverage their despicable public persona for his own personal gain. If Tesla is to thrive in the future, it will only happen after the weak kneed members of the board of directors rediscover their long lost cojones and replace Musk with a seasoned professional.

Around the froyo machine in the CleanTechnica employee lounge, the name that keeps popping up is Herbert Diess, who surely must be free of his duties as a glorified factotum in Wolfsburg by now. If we were on the Tesla board, we would have his number on speed dial, just in case the micro-dosing Musk does something to imperil the future of the company. If investors are looking for a way to make the share price pop, we think bringing Diess onboard would definitely do the trick.

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