Palmer Luckey talks VR and the military at Vanity Fair confab

Silicon Valley isn't as against defense projects as it might seem, if Luckey's new company is any indication.

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Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
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Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
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Laura Hautala
Dara Kerr
3 min read
Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit 2018 - Day 2

Palmer Luckey on stage with Mike Allen of Axios at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Wednesday.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Palmer Luckey has no qualms about developing autonomous tech for the US military. There were already hints of that in the mission statement of his new company, Anduril. "Anduril aims to rebuild the bridge between the tech and defense communities."

Onstage Wednesday at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in Los Angeles, Luckey said the company's engineers "work on autonomous systems, and applying that to warfare."

Luckey, who has a penchant for wearing Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops, was wearing both (along with a pair of shorts) onstage as he spoke with Mike Allen of Axios. His comments and descriptions of his company's products, which include autonomous sensors, show a company not faced with the internal ethical strife of other Silicon Valley firms when confronted by the question of building advanced tools for the military. In particular, after employees quit in protest, Google recently dropped out of a contract with the Pentagon to develop AI tools for drones that conduct air strikes.

Anduril's sensors are being used at the US-Mexico border, Luckey said. In response to Allen's question about concerns he might have about helping at the border, Luckey said there's a difference between border security and border policy.

"A lot of people look at the border problem in a skewed way," Luckey said. "What people want is a different policy."

Luckey added that he doesn't agree with everything the administration of President Donald Trump does. "I'm a fan of immigration," he said. "But I'm also a believer in strong borders." Luckey added that it's his understanding that the groundwork for a policy that separates children from their parents at the border didn't begin under the Trump administration, and that he approves of Trump's reforms to country-based immigration.

Luckey is primarily known for developing the Oculus VR platform, which was eventually purchased by Facebook, and he said Wednesday that Anduril is currently testing products that pipe data into headsets worn by soldiers.

His political views came to light in 2016 when it emerged he'd donated to a political organization that put up billboards opposing then-candidate Hillary Clinton. A news article from the Daily Beast said Luckey told a reporter that he was in fact the founder of the anti-Clinton group, but Luckey quickly called the report false. Luckey then left Facebook -- he says he was fired, but Facebook hasn't confirmed that

On Wednesday, Allen asked Luckey about the events that led him to leave Facebook. "I gave money to a group that was against Hillary Clinton, and people found out and everyone hated me," Luckey said. 

But that didn't leave him with the impression that he was a lone conservative in Silicon Valley. "There actually is a huge breadth of ideological diversity," he said.

Allen also asked Luckey whether he thought Silicon Valley would have its own "MeToo moment," to which Luckey replied he didn't know and probably wasn't the right person to ask. 

But of Silicon Valley, he said, "It is a space where there's acceptance of all sorts of people."

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