Building a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexican border threatens human beings and entire ecosystems, and it signals America’s increasing nationalistic isolationism. To head Trump’s call to “build a wall,” new tech company Anduril Industries is testing a digital border wall that mixes virtual reality with radar and cameras to monitor human movement. So far the Lattice system works. If the Department of Homeland Security approves it, Anduril hopes to use this project to do what few companies in Silicon Valley do: become a major player in the defense industry. So who are the people behind the company?
For Wired, Steven Levy explains how Lattice works and spends time with Anduril’s controversial co-founder Palmer Luckey and others inside the company’s California headquarters to see what they’re about. Lattice isn’t the first attempt to secure the U.S. border electronically, but its cost and relative simplicity make it one of the most promising. Backed by the pro-Trump venture capitalist Peter Thiel ─ the billionaire who bought land in New Zealand to survive the end times ─ Anduril’s political leanings bring its ambitions and projects into question.
Meanwhile, Luckey’s political activities had made him the object of tech-press scorn. News reports claimed that Luckey was involved in an alt-right group called Nimble America, paying for billboards ripping Hillary Clinton as “Too Big to Jail” and allegedly penning vicious Reddit posts for the group. On his public Facebook page, he denied many of the allegations but confirmed that he donated $10,000 to Nimble America because he “thought the organization had fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters.” He apologized for “negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners.” When asked about this now, the normally buoyant Luckey drops his smile and chooses his words carefully, claiming that his politics are misunderstood. “The alt-right, as it exists, as it’s defined, I do not support, never have,” he says. He describes himself as “fiscally conservative, pro-freedom, little-L libertarian, and big-R Republican.”
On the last day of March 2017, Luckey was ousted from Facebook. Neither party is sharing the details of his exit. (The issue even came up at Zuckerberg’s April 2018 Senate hearing, when Republican senator Ted Cruz, who has received $5,400 in political donations from Luckey, demanded, “Why was Palmer Luckey fired?” Zuckerberg said only that it wasn’t because of his politics.) And what did Luckey learn from his experience at Facebook and Oculus? “Be careful who you trust,” he says. “Be careful who has control.”