Image via Anduril.
Anduril, the Lord of the Rings-inspired defense company from Oculus-CEO-turned-weapons-tech-manufacturer Palmer Luckey, announced its newest product on Thursday: the Fury, a drone meant to fly alongside F-35 fighter jets and B-21 stealth bombers designed by a company that Anduril just acquired. The plan is for Anduril to marry Fury to its proprietary AI software. According to a recent interview with Luckey, the recent hype around ChatGPT and other chatbots powered by large language models has made both the Pentagon and politicians interested in AI-powered weapons systems. Even though the tech has been found wanting in numerous departments—it’s prone to making things up and, without safeguards, can perpetuate harms—it’s been good for his business.
“We are an AI company that has been around for six plus years, and now AI is super hot, and so everybody is talking to us in ways that they weren’t talking to us before,” Luckey told Breaking Defense this week, just before Fury’s debut. The CEO said that hype cycles around tech drive business. He would know: Luckey’s first breakout product was the Oculus Rift. He sold the company to Meta, then Facebook, in 2014 for $2 billion. He used that cash to bankroll Anduril.Anduril has been successful enough that it's been able to make several high profile acquisitions since its founding in 2017. North Carolina-based-based Blue Force Technologies invented the Fury. Anduril announced its purchase of the company on September 7 and then published the YouTube ad of the drone shortly after. It plans to integrate the drone into Lattice, its proprietary AI system.Anduril is focused on autonomous systems and has done a lot of business with the Department of Homeland Security. The goal is to create a kind of “digital border wall” along America’s southern border. Effectively this means placing a bunch of cameras near Texas towns near Mexico and using Lattice for threat recognition.Now Luckey is looking to sell the Pentagon lots of Fury drones that use the same basic Lattice AI to help America fight wars. AI weapons have been a hard sell for some politicians and generals, but Luckey said the hype around large language models like ChatGPT has changed some minds. “I will say that ChatGPT has probably been more helpful to Anduril with customers and politicians than any technology in the last 10 years,” Luckey said. “It’s not because ChatGPT is actually powering our products. It’s because all of a sudden, these people who never really understood AI, they never really understood autonomy at all—all of a sudden, you’ll have [a] congressman who will go and use ChatGPT and he’ll type some stuff in and he’s able to use it and he’s able to see that it does things that he never imagined a computer could do. And then when I see him next he says, ‘You know, I think I really understand what you guys were talking about with AI being a big deal, this seems like it’s gonna be really important.’ It sounds crazy, but it’s just been so true. There’s so many people in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill who have had that come to Jesus moment just because of the hype cycle around ChatGPT, which I am very happy to leverage in getting them excited about the future.”With global tensions rising over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s desire to claim Taiwan, Luckey sees opportunity for Anduril as Silicon Valley cozies up to the idea of war. “Everyone who cares about Ukraine is also watching Taiwan, because they know that Taiwan going south is an actual existential threat to many of their investments,” he said. “And so I think you’re seeing a lot of hawkishness on the part of venture capitalists, that is largely tied to their investment in companies that cannot survive if Taiwan either shuts down temporarily their semiconductor industry, or permanently has it burned to the ground or something like that.”