Web Summit: Founder of Anduril Industries Palmer Luckey says big tech companies are resistant to working with the US department of defense (DoD) on military innovation – PRNewswire

LISBON, Portugal, Dec. 2, 2020 /PRNewswire/ —

  • Speaking at Web Summit: Founder of Anduril Industries Palmer Luckey said that what stops many tech companies from working with the military is that their market cap is “wound up with China“, and they don’t want to do anything to upset Chinese leadership or risk being blocked from that market, either presently or in the future.
  • Luckey, who also founded Oculus Rift, also spoke about what he sees as the key to ethically using AI in warfare and military operations: “Any critical decision needs to be flagged to a person.”
  • The Anduril founder said that big tech companies being resistant to working with the US department of defense is a new phenomenon. Many employees of these tech companies are not as resistant as they’re portrayed, but tech companies often use them as “scapegoats”.
  • Luckey joined European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban at 100,000-attendee online conference Web Summit.

Big tech companies are resistant to working with the US department of defense (DoD) on military innovations, largely because they fear doing so would anger China and prevent them from making money there, the founder of Anduril Industries Palmer Luckey said.

Luckey, whose company works directly with the DoD on these kinds of technologies, was interviewed by David Pierce, editor at large of Protocol, at 100,000-attendee online conference Web Summit.

Throughout history, Luckey pointed out, the most innovative US technology companies have always worked with the country’s top security agencies on warfare innovations. It’s only been in the last decade that that has changed, with big tech firms saying, “Not only are we not going to work on national security problems, but any companies we acquire, we’ll instantly kill off their works [in this sector],” he said.

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Often the reasons cited are ethical concerns, and that employees of these companies themselves don’t agree with working on military pursuits. But Luckey challenged this notion during the Web Summit interview, saying that the high percentage of employee objections gets inflated.

“A lot of companies have financial and PR incentives to stay out of military work, so they’re happy to use those employees as a scapegoat to say, ‘We’re listening to our employees.’…which contributes to this idea that workers of Silicon Valley and other tech hubs are universally opposed to this idea,” Luckey said.

For anyone who thinks this is an exaggeration of consequences from Chinese backlash, Luckey insisted, “You’ve had companies dropped and blocked in China for far less. You say the word ‘Taiwan‘ and that’s it; it’s over for you.”

China has done an incredible job of using the blocking of access to their markets as a tool to get the culture of western democracies to subvert itself to China. They don’t have to come after us militarily. They don’t have to cut our networks. All they have to do is invest in our companies, do partnerships with our companies, dangle this carrot of ‘Maybe someday we’ll allow you into China‘ and…then everybody bends over for them, whether they’re making money now or maybe some day in the future,” Luckey said.

As for tech workers who object to the companies they work for suddenly changing course to work on military advancement, Luckey urges tech companies to be upfront and honest about how employees’ work will be applied.

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“I’m totally sympathetic to where they would feel bamboozled when it turns out their company was using their code on the side to work with the US department of defense,” Luckey said. “In the same way my employees would feel bamboozled if I told them they were coming here to save lives, protect military bases, protect western democracy, and then it turns out I’m actually using their code to…lock up dissidents in China, or if I was using their technology to track theft in grocery stores. They would be totally fair in saying, ‘That’s not what I signed up for’.”

In discussing the usage of AI in warfare, and how to properly create guidelines, Luckey said the best course of action is not to look at what AI is capable of today, but what it’s capable of in the long run, then develop rules accordingly.

“It’s not a good idea to outsource life and death decisions to a machine. You can’t court-martial a machine. You can’t imprison a computer for war crimes,” he said. “What we’ve been focused on is building technology that gets the right information in front of the right people at the right time. Sorting through large amounts of information but not making those lethal decisions without a person very explicitly looking at the data and making the call, like they have for centuries. I think that that’s a pretty good line to draw, and something we’ll have to enforce against our political adversaries.”

In response to the idea that the tech is ahead of regulation when it comes to AI in military applications, Luckey said the department of defense has more thinking and policy around autonomous systems than anywhere else.

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“DoD has a lot more process around the use of autonomous weapons than basically any other organisation. AI, as a new buzzword, has gotten people to treat it as a brand new thing. But the reality is since the Vietnam war we’ve had missiles that were able to fly into an area, look for radar signatures, run into it and blow it up,” he said.

About Palmer Luckey

Palmer is the founder of Anduril Industries, a startup that is building surveillance and defense systems for the US military and other agencies. He is also the founder of Oculus Rift.

About Web Summit

In the words of Inc. Magazine, “Web Summit is the largest technology conference in the world”. Forbes says Web Summit is “the best tech conference on the planet”, Bloomberg calls it “Davos for geeks”, Politico “the Olympics of tech”, and the Guardian “Glastonbury for geeks”.

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