NixCon drops Palmer Luckey's AI combat drone maker Anduril as sponsor due to military ties
NixOS event organizers say community unhappy about funding from Pentagon contractor
On Monday, the organizers of NixCon, which celebrates the NixOS Linux distribution, welcomed Anduril Industries as a sponsor of the event.
The following day, after that commercial deal was questioned in a NixOS discussion forum, the event organizers rejected Anduril's sponsorship, citing community concerns about accepting funds from a defense contractor.
Anduril, for those who don't know, is a six-year-old California upstart that develops autonomous and remote-piloted military systems – think drones that can fight or spy in the air, or carry out surveys and intelligence gathering underwater – and has reportedly bagged more than $1 billion in Pentagon contracts.
As well as working on that and various other AI technologies, it also provides things like automated sentry towers for Uncle Sam to monitor the US-Mexico border.
We'll be sure to review our Code of Conduct and sponsorship rules to do better in the future
"Following internal discussion and community feedback, we decided to drop this sponsor," said the NixOS maintainers via, er, Twitter, a social network owned by a billionaire whose other companies do substantial business with the US government and military. "We'll be sure to review our Code of Conduct and sponsorship rules to do better in the future."
Palmer Luckey, founder of Anduril, responded on the social media network that now calls itself X, objecting to the claimed demand by NixCon that Anduril employees attending the show refrain from mentioning their affiliation with the startup.
Yes, the same Luckey who founded virtual-reality headset biz Occulus, which was bought by Facebook for $2 billion, and is perhaps best known as the VR guy on that front cover of Time. Luckey's pro-Trump trolling also drew criticism in the past.
"This is an outrageous example of censorship in open source software," Luckey said this week.
"Our status as a defense company was not sprung on them. Anduril has been a strong member of the NixOS community for 5+ years, sponsoring efforts like the Nix Documentation Project and CUDA support while open-sourcing important developments of our own like support for various Nvidia devices.
"This opaque pledge to 'do better' clearly violates the NixOS code of conduct."
The NixOS code of conduct calls for, among other things, "being respectful of differing viewpoints and experiences." It does not specify acceptable sources of funding.
The NixCon code of conduct asks attendees to "participate in an authentic and active way," which appears to conflict with the alleged directive that Anduril employees not mention their affiliation. On the other hand it's their party, and they can invite who they want.
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The Netherlands-based Stichting NixOS Foundation, which oversees the conference, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Anduril Industries also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Discomfort with military contracts has been a common theme in the open source community, particularly among software developers working for companies that have or seek such engagements.
Google in 2018 pulled out of Project Maven, a contract to provide the US military with AI for identifying objects in drone video footage, after employees protested. And to avoid being caught in that public relations quagmire again, the search ad biz issued Community Guidelines – distinct from the corporation's Code of Conduct – ordering workers to avoid politically sensitive discussions in the workplace.
That same year, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella did his best to reassure employees and the public that the Windows titan's work for the US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) – particularly controversial during the Trump administration – was purely bureaucratic in nature and "guided by our ethics and principles."
The latest tech type to express concern about assisting the military is none other than Elon Musk, founder, chairman, CEO, and chief technology officer of SpaceX. Musk recently acknowledged that he personally intervened to prevent a Ukrainian offensive against Russia.
"There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol," Musk said via his social media service on Thursday.
"The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor. If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation."
And yet Musk doesn't appear to mind military sponsorship: his companies have received billions in US government and defense contracts. ®