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Palantir and Patriotism

It really wasn’t very long ago… less than twenty years, in most cases, that many of us had only the vaguest comprehension of what Google was. Apart from those who made an effort to keep up to date on technological advancements, most of us had heard the term “Google”, but didn’t know what one could do with a Google. We knew it was something that could be found on the World Wide Web, but we weren’t sure what its purpose was. But soon, we overheard some more “with-it” people using “Google” as a verb, so we investigated further. We began to understand its expansive capabilities. Eventually, hoping to sound erudite, we declared at cocktail parties that “we have entered the Information Age”.

 Today, an understanding of Google’s function is intuitive for most, and it’s fun to reminisce on how different things were before Google. And yes, we were correct to refer to the turn of the millennium as a new dawn in the relevance of information, but a couple of decades later that almost seems quaint. Since then, the technology behind gathering information and redirecting it into extremely useful and unexpected applications has been evolving at warp speed. Today, perhaps it would be wise to refrain from declaring any grandiose claims to the pinnacle of achievement so as to not appear “quaint” twenty years from now.

 Founded about five years after Google, Palantir Technologies is still not a household name because its purposes are not relevant to the day to day needs of individuals. Their target audience is military and other government entities, as well as countless enterprises within the private sector. Palantir accumulates information from numerous sources… cell phone usage data, commercial flight passenger data, GPS location data, and a dizzying number of things of which we are largely unaware… and they reassemble that information into something usable. It aids “loss prevention” (read: busting shoplifters) for department stores. It guides baseball teams in their scouting efforts. It informs the military’s construction of complex strategic plans. Palantir is even credited with the eventual takedowns of Osama bin Laden and Bernie Madoff.

 No doubt, Google changed history by bringing us unprecedented abilities to gather facts, but Palantir is changing history by altering the course of history on a regular basis.

 Naturally, the Titans have clashed. In this Opinion piece [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/01/opinion/peter-thiel-google.html] for the New York Times one week ago, Palantir founder Peter Thiel delivered a blistering criticism of Google’s recent activities in China, namely, their operation of an Artificial Intelligence facility in Beijing. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

A.I.’s military power is the simple reason that the recent behavior of America’s leading software company, Google — starting an A.I. lab in China while ending an A.I. contract with the Pentagon — is shocking. As President Barack Obama’s defense secretary Ash Carter pointed out last month, “If you’re working in China, you don’t know whether you’re working on a project for the military or not.”

No intensive investigation is required to confirm this. All one need do is glance at the Communist Party of China’s own constitution: Xi Jinping added the principle of “civil-military fusion,” which mandates that all research done in China be shared with the People’s Liberation Army, in 2017.

That same year, Google decided to open an A.I. lab in Beijing.

 In his keynote speech at last month’s National Conservatism Conference, Thiel supplemented this concern with his disgust that, succumbing to the protests of young left-leaning employees, Google abandoned its Pentagon contract providing A.I. tools to Project Maven, a tactical development program for the United States military. Thiel’s point was to shine a light on the employees’ — and the company’s — short sightedness in assisting the Chinese government in ways it refuses to replicate for America. Thiel went on to call Google’s business activities as “seemingly treasonous”, and to suggest that the FBI and the CIA should investigate the company in a “not excessively gentle manner”. A few days later, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale (who is no longer involved in the company’s operations) went on CNBC’s Squawk Alley to double down on Thiel’s assertions, calling Google “unpatriotic” in contrast to Palantir’s pro-US mission.

 The internet will provide you with nearly unlimited sources of politically biased information from every viewpoint along the spectrum. Your weekly Iron Edge newsletter is not one of those outlets. Our purpose is not to express liberal or conservative notions. We are here to inform you on some of the finer details about the late-stage pre-IPO companies we can make available to you. With this disclaimer out of the way, we will state the obvious: Peter Thiel is a conservative. He spoke passionately in favor of Donald Trump at the 2016 Republican Convention. This makes him unique among Silicon Valley disruptors. Around Palo Alto, one is expected to remain way to the left. It is rumored that this is why Thiel had to move to Los Angeles, which truly illustrates the severity of the situation: moving to L.A. to get away from liberals!

 Palantir has been, among other things, a lightning rod for politically charged rhetoric. A high-profile example is that outspoken groups have raised issue with the work Palantir has done for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Palantir, meanwhile, stresses that their efforts with ICE are geared toward antiterrorism and the prevention of human trafficking and child exploitation. A case involving even more recent events is centered upon the horrific mass-shooting occurrences in El Paso and Dayton last weekend. When addressing the tragedies earlier this week, President Trump called upon Big Tech to develop detection software that “stop[s] mass murders before they start.” Underscoring the idea, Trump stated that past mass shooters in recent years in this country all had “early warning signs” that were largely ignored, or not given adequate attention until it was too late.

 Regardless of which side of the gun issue one favors there is universal agreement that any prevention of such atrocities would be a wonderful development… an obvious life saver. On this point there is no debate. The questions begin when one examines how it can be executed. It is a fascinating and multi-faceted conversation: at what price shall we fortify personal security? How much privacy will we have to sacrifice in order to thwart violent attacks? Detractors suggest visions of an Orwellian future. They warn that we could become a society with law enforcement akin to that of the 2002 science fiction film Minority Report (in which technology accurately predicts who is about to commit a crime, and Tom Cruise scurries out and slaps the cuffs on the perp before the misdeed happens). These fears are based on legitimate reasoning, but proponents would counter that in the past century we have seen the growth of much “scarier” tech and have adapted to it just fine.

 Perhaps the reality of our future will be guided by the government’s ability to legislate in pace with the technology. Indeed, Palantir is putting the advancement of the Information Age into hyperdrive, and its applications can be immeasurably useful in helping the government and private sectors to do good things. These opportunities should not and, most likely, will not be suppressed by reservations about the unknown. Since the dawn of man, the evolution of technology has almost always made our lives better, and that will continue to be the case as long as we properly “grow into” the advancements as a society.

If you would like to learn more about Palantir Technologies, or if you know of anybody else who would, please do not hesitate to contact us by clicking “Get in Touch” below.

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Paul Maguire

Founder And Managing Partner