Palmer Luckey: Silicon Valley shouldn't dictate US military policy

The Oculus founder is unapologetic about building future military technology and thinks other tech giants should jump on board too.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey spoke about his move into creating new autonomous technology tools for the US military , and he's not sorry about the decision. He also said that if the US and its allies are to win the next war they take part in, more technology companies need to get with the program.

Speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon on Thursday, Luckey said that while he was still at Oculus he started to become concerned that the US was falling behind in critical areas. He's determined, he said, to help his country not just catch up to where its foreign adversaries are, but overtake them and lead the conversation.

After being let go from Facebook, the company he sold his VR company Oculus to, Luckey formed the company Anduril. The main project Anduril is working on is using sensors that'll collect data that can be used to build a perfect 3D model of an area. An AI system will analyze the data to see what's relevant and send it out in real time so soldiers can use mobile devices or heads-up displays to see everything going on around them -- where their own troops are, where their enemies are.

Choosing to invest in and build autonomous technology designed specifically for war zones might not seem the obvious choice for a gamer who built a VR headset designed for gaming. But Luckey seems to almost see it as his duty to apply the country's tech smarts to the issue. He also said other companies should be jumping on board with him.

"When tech companies in the US take a position on this, they have to realize that taking no position at all is basically ceding the argument to China and Russia and other countries that don't think about ethics the same way and don't have the same values that the US and its allies do," he said.

One company that did get involved in developing US military tools and then changed its mind is Google . The company chose not to renew its contract with the Pentagon for Project Maven, an AI program that could be used for drone strikes, after 3,000 employees reportedly signed a petition and 12 reportedly quit in protest.

But Luckey said he thought most Google employees were actually on board with their employer's plan. They recognized that Google assisting in building military technology would, over time, lead to less collateral damage and fewer civilian deaths. He blamed a "very loud minority" for taking a short-term view of the problem and being overly American-centric in their protestations. "They do not speak for the company," he said. 

Luckey also said the majority of people working in tech share his attitude to building military technology.

"Most of Silicon Valley believes that it's better for the west to have the best defense technology than to let Russia and China lead in that space," he said. "Most people don't want to speak up about this because it's so controversial."

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Luckey said it's not for tech companies to tell the military what it should and shouldn't aim to build.

"I don't think that's generally the place of Silicon Valley companies," he said. "They shouldn't be telling the government what their policy is ... Certainly don't try to control policy by refusing to give the government the best tools."

Luckey said that as time goes on, we're going to see more and more people realizing they need to take a stand and work on defense technology and do things that may not be popular so that the US and its allies can get ahead.

"If you want to define the rules, you have to lead first," he said. "You can't just be equal with people if you want to lead the discussion."

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