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Palmer Luckey’s virtual border wall: From disruption to dystopia

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Palmer Luckey’s virtual border wall: From disruption to dystopia


Every coder living off his girlfriend and unwilling to support himself with a job dreamed of having their startup called disruptive by any of the high holy thought leaders of the upper classes. It promised funding and a license to behave in any manner a man wanted. Call your users “dumb fucks,” ignore user safety and security, eschew laws to ruin life for poor people in cities, “innovate” a surveillance state that would make North Korea jealous, build a culture on sexual harassment or have a bang room in your office: All is permitted when you disrupt. Even if you want to disrupt like a despot, and create a startup to hunt and round up human beings, like disgraced Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey.

Disruption, like all Silicon Valley buzzwords, began to grow limp in its old age. To shore up the flagging jargon, just about every tech writer was calling every garbage startup “like Uber for (whatever).” Financial advisors, being noble Valley warriors, took to the Internet to try and bring “meaning” back to the buzzword, whatever that means.

But then Oculus Rift showed up and disruption was back, baby. Palmer Luckey’s plagued-with-problems virtual reality headset shored up 2014’s disruption dysfunction issues to be hailed as … Silicon Valley’s next disruption! The Kickstarter success practically printed money, raising $2.4 million (nearly 10 times its goal) from 9,522 backers — and Luckey earned a reputation of a man who attacks his supporters.

So it was no surprise to anyone when Luckey was revealed to be funneling piles of money and lots of energy into pro-Trump (and openly racist) online propaganda mill “Nimble America,” with his silent partner in the venture Milo Yiannopoulos, and its troll army.

Daily Beast, which broke the news, explained: “Nimble America was founded by two moderators of Reddit’s r/The_Donald, which helped popularize Trump-themed white supremacist and anti-Semitic memes along with 4Chan and 8Chan.” Among Palmer’s Nimble America foundational ideas are “America First” and “Legal Immigration.”

In tech lingo, Luckey’s side project was like a warm and fuzzy Y Combinator “startup school” for people who post content designed to harm others and scream “free speech”. Almost everything online related to Nimble America has been removed since the story broke.

Strangely, Luckey was ousted at the end of March from the “all lives matter” and “Holocaust denial is free speech” enclave of Facebook, which had acquired Oculus. Six weeks later, Chris Dycus, the first Oculus employee hired by Luckey, quit Facebook too. Dycus wrote on his employee Facebook page that he was leaving for a “job opportunity that I just can’t pass up” at a startup in Southern California “in stealth mode” that “really sounds like something I want to do.”

If you think that sounds disruptive, then you’re probably right. Dycus ran from Facebook’s fake-news-coddling bosom straight into the arms of Palmer Freeman Luckey. Their sekrit new startup got smacked out of stealth with an article last weekend describing how Oculus founder Palmer Luckey is now developing border surveillance technology. To create a “virtual wall” for the purpose of hunting and tracking human beings.

I guess you could say it’s “like Uber but for rounding people up.” Or maybe it’s like AirBnB but for dehumanizing refugees and immigrants. Maybe since Peter Thiel is reportedly planning to fund it, something more appropriate might be “like PayPal for the surveillance state” or “like Gawker but for genocide.” Maybe not buzzwordy enough? I don’t know.

The New York Times report explained that Luckey and Dycus’s awesome new startup is developing “surveillance technology that could be deployed on borders between countries and around military bases.” He told The Times, “We need a new kind of defense company, one that will save taxpayer dollars while creating superior technology to keep our troops and citizens safer.”

According to three people who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity, the new company wants to employ LiDAR technology with infrared sensors and cameras “to monitor borders for illegal crossings.” LiDAR is typically used for archaeology and guiding driverless cars, but it’s an area of interest for security firms for real-time human surveillance.

For instance, Industrial Laser Solutions wrote that with Velodyne’s compact LiDAR tech and the People Tracking software from Raytheon/BBN, a camera can track people in real time, day or night, identifying them with precision as they move around. “The user can select a “person of interest” and this tracking information is passed on to a PTZ camera that follows the person.”

Luckey’s new venture won’t stop at border surveillance, it’s supposedly planning to expand the virtual guard posts to other locations and public events. “Mr. Luckey believes his system, which can be mounted on telephone poles,” The Times wrote, “can be built far more cost effectively than Mr. Trump’s proposed wall on the Mexican border — and with fewer obstacles from landowners.” Meaning, people won’t know “the wall” is hunting and tracking humans on their property, and the general public won’t know they’re being tracked (in detail, in real time, being indexed on a computer somewhere), either.

In April, just after he left Facebook (and before Dycus left Facebook), Luckey held a big ‘ol fundraiser to help line the pockets of Texas Senator Ted Cruz — who is currently tied with a Democrat for the 2018 election, and whose state has the largest stretch of border wall with Mexico. Just last month, Luckey had a high-tech border wall pitch meeting with Ryan Zinke, Chuck C. Johnson, and four other Trump team members.

Apparently the thought leader rockstar of moonshot shitposting opened his kimono with synergy! At some point in all this, he hacked his way into ideating some “virtual wall” deliverables: The Times reported that Luckey apparently got an audience with Creepy Steve (Bannon) himself.

If you’re wondering where this hot new startup might pivot to next, maybe just think of it like disruption but for everything Lady Liberty stands for.

Requests for comment and updates to Palmer Luckey on this article, or corrections in regard to NYT’s reporting, did not receive a response by publication time. We will update this article accordingly.

Images: Niall Carson/PA WIRE (Palmer Luckey); Gary Cameron / Reuters (Ted Cruz)



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