“Military AI will determine our lives, the lives of your kids. This is a zero-sum thing. The country with the most important AI, the most powerful AI will determine the rules.”
Secretive software company Palantir had a busy year involving itself in government affairs. In an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin for CNBC's "Squawk Box" this week, CEO Alex Karp spoke about the "strong but often controversial positions" the company has taken in recent years, with particular zest in 2019, including its work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and rumors the company has taken over the widely-protested drone AI program, Project Maven.
Unsurprisingly, Karp expressed full support for these efforts and, while declining to confirm the company's involvement in Project Maven, said if it "were true [he'd] be very proud."
It's not me, it's you — Palantir's work "finding people in our country who are undocumented" alongside ICE has drawn the ire of many Americans; according to Karp, protestors have posted up outside of the office and even his house. I guess we're supposed to feel bad here? The issue is complex, though, Karp condescends; he grasps this and opponents do not.
"My position is we acknowledge the complexity and the people who are protesting should also acknowledge the complexity," he said.
But it's all for the good of the American people — Ultimately, Karp says the decisions have to extend beyond "this small island in Silicon Valley." We're still waiting to see that happen.
Many of the controversies Palantir is involved in, like its work with ICE, aren't exactly new; as the co-founder points out, that goes back to the Obama administration. But, Palantir's intimate relationship with the government appears only to be getting stronger — despite widespread concerns from the public. According to CNBC, the company has bagged government contracts worth a total of $1.5 billion.
“I have a degree in what amounts to progressive thought.”
It's not just the U.S., government either. Palantir offers its services to foreign entities, as well, based on a decision-making process that, "if you're Germany, France, America, Sweden, or Japan," is "quick" and if you're not... "it's more complicated."
The company has also reportedly taken over the Project Maven contract after Google backed out following protests from its own employees. Just as a refresher, Project Maven is what weapons experts call “the first serious attempt by DOD to cut through the bureaucratic red tape to deliver AI tools quickly to warfighters."
Karp's defense of this — without actually saying if the company is involved — is as dystopic as you'd expect. Discussing the backlash Google received for its involvement in Project Maven, Karp says military AI "will determine our lives, the lives of your kids."
"This is a zero-sum thing," Karp says. "The country with the most important AI, the most powerful AI, will determine the rules."
Yep, nothing to worry about here.
Don't worry though, he's "progressive" — Everyone knows that, right? Karp really wants that to be clear. In a statement that can only be interpreted as the government-apologist equivalent of 'I have black friends,' Karp told Sorkin: "Everybody who knows me personally knows that I've been a card-carrying progressive my whole life. My family is progressive — I have a degree in what amounts to progressive thought.
"Obviously there are many things I would do differently," he added, though, noting that he's been critical of the administration. Those things “obviously” don’t include not using your software to hunt down undocumented immigrants or to aid highly-controversial military efforts. But hey, progressive!