"Palantir"-- disturbing technology in even more disturbing hands
silvergolong - Wed, Nov 30, 2011 - 12:43 AM
"An organization like the CIA or FBI can have thousands of different databases, each with its own quirks: financial records, DNA samples, sound samples, video clips, maps, floor plans, human intelligence reports from all over the world. Gluing all that into a coherent whole can take years. Even if that system comes together, it will struggle to handle different types of data—sales records on a spreadsheet, say, plus video surveillance images. What Palantir (pronounced Pal-an-TEER) does, says Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner (IT), is “make it really easy to mine these big data sets.” The company’s software pulls off one of the great computer science feats of the era: It combs through all available databases, identifying related pieces of information, and puts everything together in one place.
Depending where you fall on the spectrum between civil liberties absolutism and homeland security lockdown, Palantir’s technology is either creepy or heroic. Judging by the company’s growth, opinion in Washington and elsewhere has veered toward the latter. Palantir has built a customer list that includes the U.S. Defense Dept., CIA, FBI, Army, Marines, Air Force, the police departments of New York and Los Angeles, and a growing number of financial institutions trying to detect bank fraud. These deals have turned the company into one of the quietest success stories in Silicon Valley—it’s on track to hit $250 million in sales this year—and a candidate for an initial public offering. Palantir has been used to find suspects in a case involving the murder of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent, and to uncover bombing networks in Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. “It’s like plugging into the Matrix,” says a Special Forces member stationed in Afghanistan who requested anonymity out of security concerns. “The first time I saw it, I was like, ‘Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.’ ”...
Thiel, Lonsdale, and a couple of former colleagues officially incorporated Palantir in 2004. Thiel originally wanted to hire a chief executive officer from Washington who could navigate the Byzantine halls of the military-industrial complex. His co-founders resisted and eventually asked Alex Karp, an American money manager living in Europe who had been helping raise money for Clarium, to join as temporary CEO.
It was an unlikely match. Before joining Palantir, Karp had spent years studying in Germany under Jürgen Habermas, the most prominent living representative of the Frankfurt School, the group of neo-Marxist philosophers and sociologists. After getting a PhD in philosophy from the University of Frankfurt—he also has a degree from Stanford Law School—Karp drifted from academia and dabbled in stocks. He proved so good at it that, with the backing of a handful of European billionaires, he set up a money management firm called the Caedmon Group. His intellect, and ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute, commands an awed reverence around the Palantir offices, where he’s known as Dr. Karp.
During the era of social networks, online games, and Web coupons, Karp and his engineers have hit on a grander mission. “Our primary motivation,” Karp says, “is executing against the world’s most important problems in this country and allied countries.” That’s an unusual pitch in Silicon Valley, where companies tend to want as little to do with Washington as possible and many of the best engineers flaunt their counterculture leanings."
HOLY FUCKING SHIT an avowed Cultural Marxist of the Frankfurt School is in charge of one of the creepiest projects ever.
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