Project Maven the US Defense Department's effort to leverage machine learning to improve military drones in identifying targets and gathering intelligence,made headline's last year when Google backed out of the initiative following internal protests. Stepping in to fill the role is Anduril, owned by Palmer Luckey, who is unabashedly ideologically committed to hi-tech warfare.
A report from The Intercept reveals that Oculus Rift co-founder Palmer Luckey's defense company, Anduril Industries, won a contract to support Project Maven in December 2018. Anduril will also support the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.
Google elected to withdraw from Project Maven following an internal revolt from its own employees, raising a wider public debate about the role of big tech in developing lethal weapons. Microsoft Satya Nadella recently defended the company's military contract involving the HoloLens 2 after Microsoft employees began to protest it. But Anduril, named after Aragorn's sword in The Lord of the Rings, is unabashedly a defense company dedicated to manufacturing AI for warfare and border security, so it's unlikely that we'll see a similar backlash occur here. Incidentally, a message one can take away from The Lord of the Rings is that it is better to destroy a powerful weapon rather than risk the potential corruption or abuse it may bring.
Anduril already has an object recognition system called Lattice, which uses machine learning to scan a border or battlefield area, and deliver what Luckey calls a "perfect omniscience" to soldiers on the battlefield, who should be perfectly aware of potential threats and objects around them and be able to direct autonomous drones and weapons to bring death from afar.
Palmer Luckey's initial claim to fame was his development of what would become the Oculus Rift VR headsets when he was just a teenage, and the young tech entrepeneur later sold Oculus Rift to Facebook for over $2 billion. But his time under the Zuckerberg umbrella was short-lived, as Luckey was ousted in 2016. Zuckerberg maintained before Congress that this was not because of Luckey's support of the Trump campaign, but the Oculus co-founder did secretly donate to both pro-Trump activist groups and to the Trump inauguration fund through shell companies, and contributed over $670,000 to congressional Republican campaign funds over the last two years. Facebook, at the time eager to distance its own involvement politics and the Trump campaign in particular, may not have been too pleased at this.
Regardless of the truth behind his departure from Facebook, it seems that Luckey has found a home that will enable him to support the current administration with full ideological commitment. As the US military continues to develop AI to increase combat effectiveness with the help of willing partners, those concerned about the ethical parameters cannot continue to rely on employee protests - instead, the government itself must be held accountable.
What do you think of Silicon Valley partnering with the Pentagon? Is all fair in war, or should there be limits on weapon technology?
Source: The Intercept