From virtual reality to military drones, an interview with Palmer Luckey

From virtual reality to military drones, an interview with Palmer Luckey

From virtual reality to military drones

Who needs the metaverse when your life can be as bizarre as Palmer Luckey's? In 2016, the founder of virtual reality startup Oculus was unceremoniously kicked out of the company that had acquired it, Facebook. Zuckerberg and his non-him had welcomed Luckey's political activity in support of former US President Donald Trump. At the time, few would have imagined that the eccentric technologist, gamer, and cosplayer who once posed on a virtual beach for the cover of Time Magazine would become a leading figure in the defense tech industry. But it didn't take long for Luckey to found Anduril, a startup funded by venture capital firm Founders Fund and dedicated to cutting-edge military technology.

Now Luckey is winning billion-dollar contracts with the Pentagon . One of these involves the development of a counter-drone system based on its "battlefield operating system", called Lattice. Anduril's demonstration video shows one of the company's surveillance towers detecting a hostile drone and in turn sending a small drone at high speed to knock out the intruder. Recently, Anduril also acquired a company that produces robot submarines. Luckey's video games have become real and deadly.

Mark Zuckerberg has a plan to make the metaverse a reality From universal translators to the virtual assistants of the future, to privacy and security: the evolution of deep learning could be the key to realizing Meta's vision Read l 'article Anduril has a valuation that is close to five billion dollars, which makes Luckey one of the few people to have founded two unicorns, startups whose value exceeds one billion dollars. Luckey is not your typical military contractor. Perpetually dressed up in a Hawaiian shirt, and occasionally in cosplay, he looks more like a jolly hacker. His conservative views also make him an awkward figure in Silicon Valley (one of his sisters is married to right-wing agitator and US Congressman Matt Gaetz). Cheerful and without remorse, Luckey told US about his talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, about ethics in defense technology and Mark Zuckerberg's foray into the metasphere.

The interview has been translated, edited and condensed into a few passages.

Steven Levy: How does the invasion of Ukraine affect how you think about his strategies?

Palmer Luckey: I met President Zelensky shortly after we started, and I last saw him about two years ago. He was one of the few leaders on the European continent to understand that expansionist dictatorships cannot be dissuaded by using bad words or by moving money, but only through a credible threat of the use of force. It was not a popular opinion among his allies at the time. But this is the thesis of our company: it is better to have very powerful technologies that represent a deterrent to conflicts, increasing the cost enough to make them inconceivable.

What were you talking about with Zelensky and his deputies?

I can't go into specifics. But I will tell you that Zelensky contacted us well in advance of most of the world leaders, at a time when people did not believe in the application of autonomous technologies to warfare. He and a handful of others saw the future and realized that autonomy would play an important role in acting as a deterrent to conflict. I am truly devastated that he was unable to stop it [the conflict, ed], that the whole world was unable to.

The conflict would be different if Anduril's technology had been employed ?

There are some assumptions in this question, for example that we are not involved.

Are you involved?

I cannot confirm or deny. I'll just say that we designed our technology to be relevant specifically for challenges of this kind. We have thought for years that this shift from counterinsurgency to superpower conflict would be the area we needed to focus on. We have turned all our efforts into aspects that are relevant to conflict or to prevent conflict with great powers such as Russia and China. The things we are building are relevant precisely to the types of fighting that are happening now in the field and in the skies of Ukraine.

When I first dealt with Anduril there was no certainty that you would succeed to get huge government contracts. Instead, you have won a lot of money, including a recent billion dollar contract to build drones that defend against attack drones, right?

Yes, that was the contract with Socom [US Special Operations Command]. We also have a nearly $ 1 billion contract with the US Air Force to develop an advanced battle management system. We have participated in some trial shootings with our competitors, which in some cases are really big companies in the defense industry.

Not real shootings, I hope.

We didn't shoot each other, we were competing. For example, we were competing to try to hit drones in the sky. We were the best, which is why we got the contract. I posted a nasty tweet about it: some of our competitors were complaining that it wasn't fair for us to show up with a technology we had developed using our own money, while they only used the technologies the government paid them for. ; they wished the government had given them more money to develop them. This is one of those complaints that you hear in the defense industry, but that really sound a little weird when you come from the world of consumer electronics or the business world. Sorry, isn't it fair that I spent my money on doing something without bringing taxpayers into it ?!

Yet recently one of your executives complained that conditions in the industry disfavour Silicon startups Valley when it comes to defense procurement.

When I complain about how impossible it is for startups to be successful in the industry, I am talking about the smaller companies, the ones that don't have our resources. We have nearly a thousand people, have acquired three companies in the past six months and signed several billion dollar contracts. After five years, we are a known entity, and this puts us in a different situation. There have only been three unicorns in thirty-five years in the defense industry: Palantir, SpaceX, and Anduril. All three of these companies were founded by people who had just sold their previous company for multi-billion dollars. However, we encountered several difficulties. Behind all the success has been a lot of effort and contracts that we think we should have gotten but we didn't.

WiredLeaks, how to send us an anonymous report Read the article Where are you with technology for the "smart border"?

Continue. We have towers spread all over the southern and northern border [of the United States, ed.]. It is part of the annual budget of the Congress. But most of our work is in the military. There are no billion dollar contracts in sight to massively expand the business at the border.

I visited the border with her in early 2018, shortly before we learned of the family separation policy at the border and other situations of suffering. How do you feel about it?

I am still very proud of the work we do for border security. The reality is that no matter what the immigration policy is, it is fair to know what is crossing the border. You saw it with the administration [of current US President Joe] Biden. They have changed the policy of handling people crossing the border, but they still want to know if people are smuggling drugs into the United States, weapons out of the country, and cash in both directions. Regardless of what the immigration policy is, very few people don't want awareness on the issue. I think this is one of the reasons why we have continued to work well, including in border security work, with the new administration.

It would seem that the transition from building the wall to monitoring the border will help you.

Yes. The first application for which Customs and Border Protection actually paid us was in an area where there was already a barrier. steel more than five meters high, but which still did not stop the passage of people.

Your attention is mainly focused on what you call Lattice, a system for connecting several different sensors and technologies, which allows soldiers to see what happens on the battlefield in real time. How is it going?

We are working with all major branches of the American military. We are also working extensively with the British Ministry of Defense and the Australian Army. The great thing is that they all want their technologies to be interoperable. Lattice's goal is to fuse all of the Defense Department's sensors and effectors, not just the things we do. We recently did an Abms [Advanced battle management system] tutorial, where we merged several dozen existing systems. We have used the system in a naval destroyer and its weapon systems, as well as in some fighter jets piloted by humans. Lattice creates a framework in which the relevant elements are marked and then delivers that data to the people who need to know it in real time.

Autonomous weapons are a controversial topic. Should we accept that AI-based systems are capable of pulling the trigger?

We already have them today. I happened to talk to people who said to me: "We should ban the development of autonomous weapons systems before it is too late." But the fact is, they already exist, like the short-range weapons systems that protect our aircraft carriers from oncoming missiles. We have cruise missiles that can hit surface-to-air missile sites, which essentially reach an area, look for electronic emissions and then strike without sending any kind of communication. There is no other way to solve the problem. It is not possible to have one person take physical responsibility for pulling the trigger in every situation. The problem is making sure that the responsibility for these technologies always lies with a person. Ways of thinking about employing autonomous weapons need to be designed that ensure that reasoning occurs before the trigger is pulled.

What is your responsibility as a manufacturer?

I think it is above all that of designing systems that have the ability to be used responsibly. All of our systems record history: who accessed it, what did it, what was ordered into the system, and how responsibility was passed on to another person. What I don't want to do is make it impossible to use these systems in certain cases, such as shooting at a target in the absence of an active communication link with a person. It would be like telling the enemy that to defeat us it is enough to interrupt our communication link, so that all our weapons will deactivate by themselves. We need to design a weapons system that the military is free to use according to their doctrine, but also have a way to make people accountable for that doctrine.

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