Palmer Luckey wins secretive Pentagon contract to develop AI for drones

Palmer Luckey (previously) the alt-right financier who was made a billionaire by Mark Zuckerberg's decision to acquire his VR startup Oculus, is now running a Peter-Thiel-backed surveillance startup called Anduril Industries, which has won a contract to contribute to Project Maven, the Pentagon's controversial AI-for-drones system (Google's involvement in Project Maven sparked an employee uprising that ended with the relevant executives leaving the company and the contract being allowed to lapse).

Luckey's company won the contract after he made lavish contributions to the campaigns of Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans.

In an opinion column for the Washington Post, Luckey and Stephens sharply criticized Google for abandoning the U.S. government by rejecting Project Maven. "We understand that tech workers want to build things used to help, not harm," the pair wrote. "We feel the same way. But ostracizing the U.S. military could have the opposite effect of what these protesters intend: If tech companies want to promote peace, they should stand with, not against, the United States' defense community."

What was left out of the column, however, was that, as the piece went to print, Anduril was beginning its own work on Project Maven.

In interviews and public appearances, Luckey slammed engineers for protesting government work, arguing that those claiming conscious opposition to military work are among a "vocal minority" that empowers American adversaries abroad. Moreover, he said that the Defense Department has failed to connect with top tech talent because many engineers are "stuck in Silicon Valley at companies that don't want to work on national security."

In Anduril, Luckey is presenting a company that is unapologetic about its work capturing immigrants or killing people on the battlefield. The U.S., Luckey argued in a previous interviews, "has a really strong record of protecting human rights" and should be trusted to use AI without any ethical constraints.

"The biggest threats are not going to be Western democracies abusing these technologies," he told the audience at the Web Summit in Lisbon. The real enemies are China and Russia, both of which have invested in AI military technology.

Defense Tech Startup Founded by Trump's Most Prominent Silicon Valley Supporters Wins Secretive Military AI Contract [Lee Fang/The Intercept]