The Pentagon Has Awarded a Contract For Its Controversial Project Maven Program
Photo Credit: The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia outside Washington, DC is seen in this aerial photograph, April 23, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The Pentagon Has Awarded a Contract For Its Controversial Project Maven Program

Palmer Luckey is perhaps best-known for founding the virtual reality firm Oculus Rift  that was bought by Facebook for $3 billion.  Now, his new firm, Anduril Industries, has made its way into the spotlight once again.

Anduril has won a contract to work on Project Maven, the Pentagon’s highly controversial drone AI program, as reported by The Intercept.

Luckey’s firm has a distinct focus on military technology, so it’s not surprising that he’s the one who will be working on the project.  Founded in 2017, Anduril “invents and builds technology to secure America and its interests,” according to the company’s website.

According to The Verge, Luckey began working on Project Maven in 2018. The Intercept noted that Luckey actually hinted about the project last November at the Web Summit, a tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

“We’re deployed at several military bases. We’re deployed in multiple spots along the U.S. border,” Luckey said. “We’re deployed around some other infrastructure I can’t talk about.”

Luckey went on to add, “Practically speaking, in the future, I think soldiers are going to be superheroes who have the power of perfect omniscience over their area of operations, where they know where every enemy is, every friend is, every asset is.”

That “power of perfect omniscience” is essentially the goal of the Pentagon’s Project Maven. It’s an artificial intelligence program focusing on computer vision to extract “objects of interests” from video or still images. Ultimately, as The Intercept outlined, the project wants to use AI tech from the private sector for the military.

Anduril already has a system called Lattice, a “virtual border wall” using machine learning to identify objects for border monitoring, as outlined by Engadget.

According to The Verge, Lattice has helped border agents catch numerous people trying to cross the border. It also gives soldiers in combat zones 3D imagery and has completed its “first phase” of research, according to The Intercept, with plans to deploy in Afghanistan.

Anduril isn’t the first company to show interest in this particular project. Google originally had a contract with the Department of Defense but dropped it after employee backlash.

Palmer Luckey, co-founder of Oculus VR and founder of Anduril Industries.

While the controversy around Project Mayven is one of the more well known disputes around the military’s use of AI, it’s a not a one off.

Many have expressed concern over how tech companies joining up with the military will speed up the development of autonomous weapons, as reported by Gizmodo. In fact, when more than 90 academics in AI, ethics, and computer science released an open letter calling for Google to end its Project Maven work, they also wanted an “international treaty to prohibit autonomous weapons systems.”

Technology columnist Navneet Alang outlined this  military-technology complex and  issues that come with it in a 2018 article for The Week. He argues that “a broader involvement by the tech world in creating instruments of surveillance and tools for the military” seems to want to replace the military-industrial complex.

As people worry about tech’s potential to exacerbate social problems in the United States, there’s clearly reason to be concerned about what it can do to people outside U.S. borders and how it will be weaponized in the future.