Elon Musk Forcing Tesla to Train Self-Driving Cars On His Own Driving

Tesla's self-driving efforts depend on human "annotators," tasked with identifying objects like construction cones or pedestrians crossing a road in recorded footage from the company's vehicles.

And as Business Insider reports, many of the company's annotators are tasked with specifically focusing on the driving of Tesla CEO Elon Musk himself, alongside several other "VIP" drivers.

In other words, a big proportion of the company's resources are being allocated to ensure that Musk and his cronies are experiencing a smooth ride.

It's a hilarious and arguably unsurprising move, given Musk's well-documented self-serving tendencies and love of micromanaging.

Human annotators are tasked with reviewing camera footage recorded by Teslas on the road to improve the company's "self-driving" software. The company's global database is updated regularly to ensure that vehicles are following the rules of the road and are adapting to changing conditions.

But Musk's personal driving habits are reportedly being sent to the front of the line, with eight workers telling BI that they remember annotating data associated with him. Other workers recalled working on labeling routes coming in and out of the carmaker's factories in Texas and California.

Other factories of competing companies didn't get nearly as much focus, according to BI's sources.

Some former employees also told the publication that they were told to put extra care and time into annotating clips recorded by Musk's car.

That kind of prioritizing could lead to some strange outcomes, such as Musk's own perspective being greatly skewed.

"It seems pretty clear that Elon's experience would be better than anyone else's," one former employee told BI. "He was seeing the software at its best."

One annotator was reportedly walked out of Tesla's office in Buffalo, New York, after failing to properly label a highway exit sign in a clip that they believed came from Musk's car.

It's not just Musk — other VIP users including YouTube celebrities and other influencers, got the royal treatment as well.

"We would annotate every area that car regularly drove in," one former Tesla worker told BI after being instructed to work on "Tesla influencer" data. "We'd home in on where they lived and label everything we could along that route."

Meanwhile, Tesla has been embroiled in controversy related to its driver assistance software. In particular, its expensive and misleadingly-named "Full Self-Driving" and "Autopilot" add-ons are being investigated by several government bodies following hundreds of collisions and dozens of deaths.

Despite the company's deceptive marketing, Tesla drivers still need to be fully alert and ready to take over at any time. Regulators, however, have found that many owners are still being lulled into a false sense of security that can lead to them misjudging the software's true capabilities.

Could Musk really be getting a far-better-than-average sense of his car company's driver assistance software? Given the latest reports, there's a good chance he is.

It's a trend that's been going on for quite some time now. According to Walter Isaacson's 2023 biography of Musk, the mercurial CEO would frequently give engineers an earful about badly annotated roads. In 2015, he reportedly stormed into Tesla's office complaining that his car had behaved dangerously while on self-driving mode. Employees realized there was a faded line on the nearby Interstate 405 — and insteaed of fixing the software, repainted it.

"After that, Musk's Autopilot handled the curve well," Isaacson wrote.

More on self-driving: Mercedes Exec Blasts Tesla for Reckless “Full Self-Driving” Rollout