Written by Nick Heer.

Elon Musk’s Crash Course

Eric Deggans, NPR:

Like a few other TV projects these days, the documentary zeroes in on the strategy employed by many Silicon Valley leaders to talk up the possibilities of their companies’ products before their achievements are fully realized. It’s a “fake it until you make it” style that allows companies to harness enthusiasm and capital to push toward goals which might otherwise seem impossible to reach.

But Elon Musk’s Crash Course is a straightforward look at the dangers of such an approach when the product involved controls a speeding automobile.

I watched this documentary tonight. Even somewhat passive followers of Tesla’s announcements — myself included — will likely be familiar with much of its contents. But seeing it laid out in a single hour-and-change record is an arresting experience.

One Tesla “Full Self Driving” beta participant was interviewed for the film, and something she said toward the end stuck with me:

There are definitely people who do not agree with Tesla’s approach. I don’t feel that it’s risky. I have never felt endangered, okay?

Setting aside the possibility of some creative editing — I have no way of knowing whether she said these three sentences in this exact order — this made me realize the biggest flaw in this film: it is solely focused on the risks to Tesla drivers. There are certainly several examples of drivers being killed because they were, in the words of several interview subjects, lulled to “complacency” in their cars, perhaps in part by Tesla’s overconfident marketing. But it is the risk to surrounding people that is barely considered in this documentary aside from some video clips at the end.

I would also not feel endangered to be in the driver’s seat of a Tesla on a highway if I treated its automation features as slightly more advanced cruise control. But if I am a cyclist riding in a crappy painted bicycle lane, I certainly hope the Tesla driver I am riding beside does not think their car can drive itself. It is one thing for a driver to be texting behind the wheel of any car knowing full well they are doing something dangerous. It is an entirely different thing if they believe their inattentiveness is compensated for by the car’s cameras and software.

In the U.S., this film can be seen on Hulu; in Canada, it is on Crave.