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Elon Musk says George Hotz's self-driving car technology isn't a threat

At least not to Tesla

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Can you issue a correction to an article you didn't publish? It's not clear, but Tesla and Elon Musk are certainly giving it a go. The company has published a "correction" to a story yesterday in Bloomberg Businessweek about former iPhone hacker George Hotz reportedly creating his own self-driving car software in his garage. In an unsigned blog post that was tweeted by Musk, Tesla says: "We think it is extremely unlikely that a single person or even a small company that lacks extensive engineering validation capability will be able to produce an autonomous driving system that can be deployed to production vehicles."

The company notes that while Hotz's technology "may work as a limited demo on a known stretch of road" (Bloomberg filmed Hotz's modified Acura ILX sedan driving on a highway near his home), it takes "enormous resources to debug over millions of miles of widely differing roads." The post goes on to say that while it is "relatively easy" to create a machine learning system that is 99 percent correct, it is "vastly more difficult" to reach 99.9999 percent accuracy.

99 percent accuracy is easy, says Tesla, but 99.9999 percent accuracy is hard

"One can see this with the annual machine vision competitions, where the computer will properly identify something as a dog more than 99% of the time, but might occasionally call it a potted plant," says the blog post. "Making such mistakes at 70 mph would be highly problematic."

Both the author of the Bloomberg story and its subject seem to have history with Tesla and Musk. The journalist behind the feature, Ashlee Vance, published a biography of Musk earlier this year which included a widely-circulated story in which Musk reportedly chastised an employee for taking time off work to witness the birth of his child. Musk later called the claim "total BS," saying he would "never do that" and claiming that the book was "not independently fact-checked."

Hotz says he rejected a "multimillion-dollar" offer from Musk

In the Bloomberg story, Vance also reports that Hotz was introduced to Musk sometime earlier this year, and chatted with him about artificial intelligence at a Tesla factory. Hotz claims that Musk offered him a contract with a "multimillion-dollar bonus" if his technology outperformed systems used by Tesla, but the 26-year-old hacker says he turned down the offer because he felt, reports Vance, that "Musk kept changing the terms."

All this backstory makes it difficult to discern Musk and Tesla's primary motivation in publishing their rebuttal, but the content of the blog post makes it clear the company is unhappy about the suggestion that their technology is easily reproducible. Bloomberg's story notes that Tesla's self-driving system uses components built by Israeli company Mobileye, which also supplies rival car manufacturers, and it's this technology that Hotz thinks his system will "crush." Tesla's blog post states: "If other car companies could meet or exceed the Tesla product by buying an off-the-shelf solution, they would do so." It's Hotz's claim that this is nearer to happening than Tesla — and Musk — might like to think.