P Almer Luckey, the virtual reality pioneer, left Facebook 2017, six months after it was discovered that he had secretly funded a pro-Trump campaign group dedicated to influencing US elections through "shitposting" and "meme magic ".
The 25-year-old Oculus founder now has a new company, Anduril Industries, this time supporting Trump's immigration policy directly through the creation of a monitoring system to detect unauthorized crossings of the Mexican border.
Anduril Industries is one of a growing number of companies playing the fears of "bad hombres" to pay for public contracts for high-tech virtual alternatives to physical wall. From drones and sensors to AI-driven face detection and human presence detection, these surveillance systems promise cheaper border control but at what cost for civic liberties?
"These systems reflect advances in sensors and analytics that will have serious repercussions on the integrity of Americans," said Jay Stanley, senior analyst with ACLU. "The combination can make us a surveillance society where all of our features are tracked."
According to a deep report from Wired, Anduril's final plan is to offer the military some "Call of Duty Goggles" that tell you "where the good guys are where the bad guys are."
But with no background as a defense contractor, the startup needed a "quick win"; Providing AI-covered surveillance technology to the border patrol was a way to get a foot in the door for public procurement.
The company, supported by Peter Thil's venture capital fund Founders Fund, has developed a tower with a laser-enhanced camera, radar and communication system. These scan a radius of two miles around them to detect motion. The images are analyzed using artificial intelligence to pick people from wildlife and other moving objects. During a ten-week test in Texas, technology – called Lattice agents from US Customs and Border Protection (CPB), helped 55 unauthorized border crossings and grabbed 445kg of marijuana.
Anduril is not the only company that uses a virtual border. Israel's defense contractor Elbit Systems designed and built dozens of thorns in Arizona to detect people as far as 7.5 miles from there. The company won the contract from the back of the previous work to build a "smart fence" – with the help of sensors, cameras and drones – to protect Jerusalem from suicide bombers.
At the border between the US and Mexico, Anduril and Elbit Systems have learned of the mistakes made by the failed billion dollar SBInet, a 53-mile virtual wall built by Boeing from 2006 but abandoned in 2011 to be too expensive and ineffective.
"Although it has generated some advances in technology that has improved the ability of border patrol agents to detect, identify, deter and respond to threats across the border, the SBI can not and can not provide a single technical solution for border security, said the home security assessment's assessment of the SBInet
For Stanley, the episode illustrates the problems of thinking technology can eliminate illegal immigration.
"There is a tendency to look at everything as data and think that if we can only track the blisters we can c lose our limits," said he. "It turned out to be very naive with the SBInet."
"Our borders are thousands of kilometers long and the world is very messy and complicated. People will try to actively change these systems so there are no simple solutions, "he added.
The overall cost-effectiveness of the surveillance technology that Anduril and Elbit make – thanks to the advances in sensor technology and AI – coupled with the CPB considering the limit being a 100-mile zone, it is likely to mean even more private interference for border communities.
"There is a thing that has sensors on the actual border, but when it begins to creep into American societies, there is no motivation," said Stanley. "These systems should never store information about residents of American communities when there is no reason to be suspicious."
In addition to "virtual walls," the US government uses a face recognition system to record images of people entering and leaving the country. Privacy testing of the system conducted in Arizona and Texas saw authorities gathering a "large amount of data" including images taken "when people left work, retrieved children from school and conducted other daily routines", according to state records.
The images captured by the vehicle system are compared to those stored in government databases, including passports, visas and other border patrol documents to identify unauthorized persons.
"This is an example of the growing trend of authoritative use of tracing and stealing technology groups," said Malkia Cyril, Managing Director of Center for Media Justice, Guardian last week.
A factor that can limit the attention of monitoring technology is the lack of artificial intelligence and analytics experts.
"Companies find that they need to pay attention to the ethical problems or risks of employees, h says Stanley, and noted the recent evacuation of Google's staff about his work with the US military on dental surveillance.
" Even if you can not relying on ethics to limit capitalism, "he said.