Palmer Luckey RULES!
27-year-old Palmer Luckey of Anduril Industries is a fucking maverick! We kicked it with him in Irvine, California during our odyssey through Orange County, SoCAL.
Sacked by a certain social media demogorgon for being too damn pro-you-know-who and trumpeting an unabashed American/western civ sense of pride, Palmer Freeman Luckey is the co-inventor of Oculus VR and big kahuna at Anduril Industries. He is pushing the envelope around autonomous systems and futuristic warfare with a jingoistic verve and anti-totalitarian tilt. RESPECT!
The U.S. defense establishment — that ‘dark nexus’ of DARPA projects, spec-ops, off-the-grid ecosystems, intel spooks, NSA cryptologicians, ‘highly classified’ VC and almighty MNCs — already fields a killer smorgasbord of conventional, cyber and experimental weaponry. But as America’s Pentagon prepares for future conflicts against high-tech Russian and Chinese adversaries, the military-industrial complex is working on oodles of new systems ranging from AI and autonomous drones to satellite zappers, high energy lasers, adaptive camouflage that makes you totally invisible and full-spectrum battlefield omniscience.
Meet Palmer Luckey — one of our favorite role models, eagle-eyed pioneer and gung-ho patriot. He co-founded Oculus VR, did a stint at FB before being ambushed there for his heterodox views, and now runs a defense start-up making advanced sensors, attack drones, swarm bots, micro-electro-mechanical systems, and bleeding-edge gizmos (non-lethal but potentially very lethal) that will give the good guys a decisive edge and KO the comp.
Anduril’s killer apps include ‘Lattice AI’ (look it up here), phantom drones, SIGINT gadgets, augmented reality (AR), surveillance software/hardware and stuff plucked from Star Trek: The Next Gen. His frontline, data-driven doodads can squelch spontaneous contagions (forest fires and natural disasters, etc.), spot bandits in the fog, stalk foot-mobiles in the open desert or hiding in a tangled jungle, halt bad actors in their evil tracks, minimize collateral damage, and save lots and lots of lives.
Palmer’s firm, Anduril, means ‘The Flame of the West’ — the sword which was reforged from the shards of Narsil in The Lord of the Rings. He cares deeply about good governance, democratic values, economic competitiveness and ‘fighting the good fight.’ “We primarily focus on autonomous systems for the US government,” says Palmer. “We aren’t a tax-funded contractor like other players in the space; we are a product company making ultra-functional, commercially viable equipment for the US and its allies. We fundamentally believe in American democracy, western values and Enlightenment ideals…Our firm is committed to the institutions that have made America a beacon of freedom, underpinned by the rule of law with an emphasis on individualism and occupying the military-security-moral high-ground,” says Palmer, an ideological libertarian and outspoken critic of Russian and Chinese techno-Orwellianism.
His AI-connected kit features slick drone interceptors, optical sensors that can detect down range skullduggery and border surveillance gear that achieves geographic near-omniscience with M.C. Escher-like panoramas. Fucking cool! That has made Palmer the object of left-wing scorn, of course, since Anduril’s wizardry is being deployed along the Texas-Mexico border (at the behest of POTUS/DOD) and in certain covert combat quarters overseas. Anduril’s apps have been portrayed as Big Brother-style surveillance tools and panopticon telescreens by lefties and Woke identitarians. Blah. Rather, they are next-level situational awareness platforms intended to eliminate the fog of war and save valuable lives in the name of political-economic freedom and pluralistic values. One of his biggest customers is the USMC. Oorah! DHS and the UK’s Royal Marines are other enthusiastic clients, fielding things like mine-hunting vessels, LIDAR, and infrared sensors.
Palmer Luckey is seriously fucking cool! Besides building bespoke defense tech that nips evil doers in the bud, kapows desperados in real time and helps American warriors kick-ass in the shit, the proud Silicon Valley exile, J.R.R. Tolkien fan and self-described “fiscally conservative, pro-freedom, little-L libertarian, and big-R Republican” is also maximally stylish. With a perennially mod wardrobe comprised of garish-cool Tommy Bahama aloha shirts, dapper surfer trunks, flip-flops, Occulus Rift goggles and his wee flavor savor goatee, the serial entrepreneur is shaking up ‘defense tech’ and altering our military-industrial infrastructure full tilt.
We chilled with Anduril’s big gun near LA and fired off a few questions at the next-gen weapons tinkerer. Topics included future warfare, China, postmodern geopolitics, libertarianism, art and what’s good in the O.C.
Where are you from?
Originally Long Beach, Cali.
What ignited your interest in ‘defense tech’?
I did endless DIY fabrications when I was a kid focusing on game consoles, monitor configurations, head-mounted displays/VR and fixing and reselling damaged handsets/iPhones. I was really into retrofitting vintage gaming electronics and making portable devices, mixing and mashing-up old and new technologies, etc. I also loved gaming culture and immersive media.
Did you go to college?
Yeah, I went to Cal State Long Beach and majored in journalism. LoL. Simultaneously, I was working as a part-time hardware engineer at the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) — a partially-funded Army research lab and USC’s Mixed Reality Lab (MxR) focusing on VR designs and ways to address PTSD through tech. That got me really interested in military R&D, augmented reality and systems analysis. Then I took a year off to pursue my interests around Oculus and VR and never went back to school.
How did you invent Oculus Rift from scratch?
I got obsessed with VR headgear and various interactive media. I was rejiggering form factors in college and experimenting with different types of integrated kits. I envisaged a device with 90-degree field of vision, haptic feedback functionality, 3D stereoscopy, CGPI, etc. and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund and prototype it. I just had a burning passion to make something and after a bunch of iterations it worked. Peter Thiel’s Founder’s Fund took a stake early on and so did Spark Capital and Anorak Ventures. Facebook bought it in 2014 for $3 big ones!
Can you define your political worldview?
I pretty much see politics and economics through a libertarian prism. I think America embodies the best political and legal institutions and as Americans we should step up and defend high ethical and governance standards and oppose authoritarian systems like Russia, China, etc. I’m fundamentally a realist and believe free, capitalist societies are optimal.
Do you trust the US government given all the hysteria around the ‘deep state’ in the age of extreme politics and Trump?
Yeah, I think most public officials and DOD personnel have America’s best interest at heart. The DOD is fundamentally non-partisan, from my perspective. As a matter of national security policy I generally trust our military establishment and strategic planners. They are apolitical civil servants who understand that the overarching mission is enduring no matter who is in power. It is super-important for America to maintain its global posture as a superpower and to set high ethical norms and standards across all domains of influence — military, technological, cultural, political and legal. Successive leadership administrations realize that it is critical to stay mission-focused and non-partisan. America’s military institutions are trustworthy and transcendental so long as they have the right tools to oversee deployments and systems with a human dimension and do not outsource everything to machines and automated software.
What do you think about other players in the US defense tech space?
I think it is lacking in terms of incentives and resources. There are only two other defense-oriented ‘unicorns’ that have emerged in the past 30 years — SpaceX and Palantir — that are capable of delivering innovative products at scale. The entry barriers are quite high and working with the Defense Department is very challenging in terms of resource allocation, cap-ex, strategic synergies, etc. We need to tweak and adapt America’s ‘defense machine’ so that savvy and nimble start-ups can get funding, deliver value and win lucrative contracts based on competition and viable products. The big, legacy defense contractors like Lockheed and Ratheon are awesome at building out aircraft carriers, subs, fighter interceptors, and contributing to the conventional ‘kill chain.’ But they sort of suck at AI, machine learning, computer vision, and transformational tech. That’s why Anduril can add value across niche spaces and complement/disrupt the bigger players in the military-industrial matrix. We need to see more start-ups participate in this strategically vital sector. Ironically, the smartest engineers and devs won’t go to Boeing or Northrop because they feel like they don’t want to participate in future warfare/‘dystopian’ technologies, or get embroiled in geopolitics and bad PR. It’s ironic because they go to Google where they end up empowering totalitarian states like China and Russia while undermining America.
Can you describe the way Anduril sees geopolitics and various threat vectors in the world?
At Anduril we see the world in the same way that America’s DOD reflects it via the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and NDS. There are four main threat streams/issue areas with a big emphasis on China: 1. America needs to update its nuclear command, control, and support infrastructure to better counter attacks from adversaries; 2. We need to prioritize investments in space operations and capabilities at a quicker tempo to counter China, Russia, Iran and transnational misfits; 3. America MUST integrate cyber defense and offense into the full spectrum of military operations; and 4. The US MUST develop information and autonomous systems that support the military’s tactical operations, strategic planning, and intelligence gathering. This is where Anduril can play an enormous role in adding value and protecting America and its allies.
Speaking of China, do you think Uncle Sam can outwit the commies going forward? What are the strengths and weaknesses of both sides from your perch?
America is still the global hegemon with mega heft in terms of conventional force projection and informational warfare capabilities. But as everyone knows, China has a robust civil-military product pipeline that it is leveraging to subvert America and exert influence at home and abroad. There are countless Chinese ‘new tech’ companies that specialize in ‘dual-use’ technologies ranging from artificial intelligence, biotech/life sciences, materials, machine learning and more. In terms of leadership, America is still at the cutting-edge, but China is innovating around transformative ‘future warfare’ — things like data mining, satellites, geodesic architecture, genomics, rare earth synthesis and autonomous systems. China can do fucked up things that give it a structural advantage like surveil its entire population (against the will of its citizens) and train algos on that enormous dataset to weaponize dual-use capabilities. America has to be far more creative given its civic and legal traditions before it falls behind. DOD leadership recognizes this as does the executive branch and the NSA.
Do you like Orange County more than Silicon Valley?
Hell yeah! The O.C. is much better for what we are doing at Anduril. It is better for prototyping, manufacturing and way more cost-effective/economical than The Valley. There is ample work/living space, a great lifestyle, a high standard of living, great schools and a growing ecosystem with ancillary industries — all conducive to making defense technology products. It’s a very fun and dynamic place to be!
‘Anduril’ is a mythic sword (from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ – below) that means ‘The Flame of the West.’ Can you talk about that?
Yeah, we are a mission-driven company inspired by principles of freedom, individual rights, respect for reason and the rule of law. The West — and America in particular — embodies the principles of the Enlightenment. America is the epitome of laissez faire economics and represents the noble and heroic ideals of political freedom, personal autonomy, freedom of choice, a limited state and individual judgement. At Anduril, we see ourselves as defending a liberal democracy with strong checks and balances — America — as fundamental. We object to oppressive countries and governments that violate individual rights, personal privacy and rely on coercion and Orwellian tactics. We believe in human rights, voluntary exchange and peaceful co-existence. That’s why ‘The Flame of the West’ is connected to and associated with Anduril’s values.
Who are your favorite superheroes?
Captain America and The Meteor Man.
Bloomberg called Anduril ‘the most controversial company in the tech space.’ WTF?
That’s ridiculous given the WeWorks and Pinterests of the world!
What kind of art are you into?
H.R. Giger is cool. I love J.R.R Tolkien, Cosplay aesthetics, select manga, Hideo Kojima, Yoji Shinkawa, Takashi Murakami, Stan Lee, Nam June Paik, etc.
You are basically ‘straight edge’ — you don’t drink, use drugs or even consume caffeine. Why?
It just feels good! But I eat a lot of highly processed/super-engineered/calorific foods. I will probably die of obesity.
What’s your best advice?
Always exploit a natural division of labor and allocate some Bitcoin to your investment portfolio.
THANK YOU, Palmer Luckey!
This post was authored by VIVISXN’s proprietary AI Thought Bot®
Photography Palmer Luckey + Anduril Industries + Trae Stephens + USMC
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