A guy from BP told me in 2013 that they forked iPython, replaced all iPython references with Palantir and tried to sell it to them for $500K p.a.
For me; back in the day (2010) they were less secretive about their technology which was essentially an ontological reasoner. This was pre the Big Data hype boom - and AFAIK Palantir has never been about Big Data. Ontological reasoners have problems that prevent them from scaling or generalizing so they generally fail. Due to a long long history of failing ontological systems have a very bad name. But they look good for guided demos and has a ton of academic backing so it's easy to sell - as long as you call it something else - which is what they did. So if you want to use ontologies a better open source alternative software is Protege. But for the problems Palantir targets I'd recommend using standard machine learning technology where all the good stuff is open sourced.
As an aside, Peter Thiel also helped found Quid. A start-up that ripped off the Gephi layout engine and charges people $20K p.a. a seat. They've since rebuilt it but like Palantir it's still not solving people's problem and they've evolved into a consulting firm.
That's especially hilarious given that approach's failures are what led to investment in machine learning in the first place. Such approaches tend to assume precise information, variables, and rules about the world. Most problems Palantir wants to address... the hard ones... are imprecise with hidden variables/relationships. The machine learning techniques did very well on those kind of mess problems. So, research shifted.
If Palantir is using ontologies for that stuff, then that would certainly be a sign for buyers to run. I still encourage academics to look into such approaches with probabilistic, simple methods in case any advances come up. Fuzzy logic was main one in my day. Just stumbled on a claim today a drone AI did human-level performance using that. Some corroboration for R&D in underdog solutions but not production apps. Haha.
I worked on scaling and generalizing ontologies at university and had already switched to working with Big Data / ML at a big company when Palantir tried to recruit me. I talked to some of their senior engineers about their tech and made the point that their tech sounded just like ontologies. I tried to get them to admit what it was so I could be sure I was having an honest conversation with them. They flatly denied it and made it out like the whole thing was their great new idea. I was unimpressed.
I was still interested in working for them. Access to hard interesting problems can be hard to come by. In the end I couldn't take their legendary arrogance and insecurities - to me these are bright red flags of a toxic corporate culture. And they low balled me. I would have temporarily put up with the toxic culture for large piles of money.
Smart decision. Far as ontologies, the Cyc project to create common sense in machines was my favorite at the time. Used ontological, knowledge base if my broken memory is accurate. I was and still am firmly convinced that finding an architecture suitable to solve that problem is a pre-requisite for the AI's we really want. Deep-learning is approximating it but closer to how brain does vision than common sense. Minsky noted at one point he could count number of researchers doing common sense on a single hand or so. That's a hard problem if you want one. Also unbelievably hard to get funded. (sighs)
That being said, from my conversations with them, they also have a traditional machine learning team for whenever that approach is needed for a product. But their core product is meant to only help analysis that is mostly done by humans.
There is a whole generation of better techniques that have come out of machine learning that totally eclipses ontologies and I know Palantir isn't using them. Their corporate culture isn't set up for fostering that kind of applied research.
No-one is advocating for a fully automated approaches. I don't know where that notion came from.
In my view is that Palantir is a consulting company that is pretending to be a tooling company. And their consultants are not worth the money they charge. Just one of many Silicon Valley based frauds.
Do you have references to any specific discussions on this?
Curious as I'm doing some work of my own (well outside AI) in which developing ontologies strikes me as useful, though I'd prefer not falling into any well-worn traps.
(My use is largely comping up with useful descriptive models of otherwise hairy concepts.)
Far as ontologies in general, they have a mixed, track record. They take a lot of work to create. Then, they have to be mapped to real world inputs and outputs. One way they got applied is so called business rules engines or business process management. It's like a subset of ontology approaches of past. Here's a company that uses the real thing for enterprise software with Mercury language for execution part:
Also, Franz Inc, of Allegro Common LISP, covers many of the same use cases as Palantir with their ontological tooling.
So, there's definitely companies using it for long periods of time for real-world, use cases. Palantir just seemed to be mixing it with hype and secrecy to maximize their sale price later. ;)
Given that you're building a descriptive model it would depend if you're working with facts or with probabilities. If it's facts then Ontologies should work fine, for probabilities I'd recommend Bayesian techniques.
The input for these are usually small. From the sounds of it you're generating the input yourself so you should be safe.
Particularly in economic and policy discussion, technology is just "technology". A black box. In economics, Solow's Residual is described, by Solow, as "the measure of our ignorance" of factor productivity growth influences -- it's quite literally, statistically, what's left over after accounting for labour and capital.
I see a few quite evident classifications which strike me as useful:
1. Fuels. Apply more energy to something, it tends to happen faster. Wood, plant and animal oils, fossil fuels, nuclear fission, possibly fusion.
2. Material properties. Some things are highly dependent on specific material properties. Conductivity of gold, silver, copper, and aluminium. Ferromagnetism. Hardness of diamond. Softness of graphite. Semiconducting of silicon. Fertilising properties of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Many others. Point being, you're now locked into availablity and other properties of that material.
3. Specific process knowledge. What used to be called "arts". Most of what's now considered "technology", from agriculture to zymurgy (though zyumurgy's actually fairly close to agriculture...). These approach theoretical efficiency limits.
4. What seem to be dendritic or web structured aspects. Computer chips and Moore's law are today's classic example, but I'd count communications, transport, and trade networks, cities and urbanisations, knowledge itself, and other elements among these. What they have in common is an increasing rate of progress with greater accumulation, modulo retarding factors.
There are several other elements. Sensing and measurement increase various capabilities -- navigation and fine metal machining come to mind. Symbolic processing, from speech and writing to abstract maths and programming. Organisation -- of people, states, business, and finance.
The final element, and one which popped out at me whilst devising the ontology, was the concept of hygiene or pollution factors. They're a distinct class of phenomena which if not addressed tend to put a damper on further growth, everything from infectuous disease in cities to heavy metal pollution, salination of croplands, traffic congestion, spam and fraud in communications and business networks. It's a superset of common categories such as "pollution" or "disease" or "social breakdown".
Anyhow, that's what I'm working on. I find it a useful organising tool, still developing the idea.
2. This is true. It's worth noting such dependencies.
3. Elaborate on that.
4. That's true. There's a lot of work on that topic already that you can draw on. I remember some showing that how the cities grew was similar to how bacteria looked. Weird stuff.
Re waste. You can model it as a separate thing that goes up when certain actions happen, then starts bringing them down. Definitely should be considered.
Fuels feed processes in which energy is crucial. Food and metabolism, almost all ore refining and metalworking, heating and cooking, and transport. Air travel (at any significant level) and Earth-to-orbit space launch are both entirely dependent on fuel-driven processes.
I didn't mention energy transmission and transformation, which is another set of mechanisms, ranging from projectiles (force-at-a-distance) to the simple machines (lever, ramp, screw, pulley, gears), linear-to-rotary and rotary-to-reciprocating transforms. Electricity, in this this ontology, is for the most part an energy transmission and transformation mechanism: to heat, motion, light, sound, etc.
3. See the Ello link for a list. The key is that the understanding is of how to do a process, which approaches some theoretical maximum efficiency. There's probably a learning curve associated, see J. Doyne Farmer and Wright's Law (related to Moore's) of process improvement.
4. You're likely thinking of Geoffrey West. There's a lot of Santa Fe Institute thinking in this idea generally.
The hygiene factors are more than just waste.
An early realisation of this came when I was considering Metcalfe's Law and the Tilly-Odlyzko refutation, of network effects. What I realised was that while yes, additional nodes tended to produce lesser value, each node also had a tendency to impose a cost to others, that being roughly constant. In a message or information network, you could consider this to be the "is this worth reading or not" cost associated with any given message.
(If you have Reddit's RES installed, set to view images, as there's a set of graphs illustrating the cost function.)
Applying that to various group communication sets, you can estimate the cost constant, and it turns out that the maximum supportable group size is a function of that constant. Among other things, Facebook manages to scale to a billion or several members by keeping the negative cost constant really, really low.
That's just one instance.
More generally, there are other phenomena which show examples of cost:
1. The Silk Road increased trade but also created a "commerce" in disease from China to Europe and versa. Similar for interactions with the New World (smallpox, syphilus).
2. Greek and Roman city engineers were conscious of location especially as regarded water flow, with the associations with disease. Clean in, dirty out. And no deisel pumps.
3. Indoor fire gives heat and cooking, but contributes to air pollution. Chimneys help.
4. Disease and epidemics limited city sizes. ~1800 London could not sustain its own population through births given the death rate. Constant in-migration was essential. Life-expectency of new arrivals was frightfully low. This improved tremendously with creation of sewers. By the end of the 19th century, solid waste, sewage, and horse metabolites (solid and liquid) were a crisis for many large cities, which had populations of hundreds of thousands of horses alone. The automobile solved a crushing pollution problem. But you got sewage, freshwater, sanitation, etc.
5. Reducing costs of something inevitably increases the amount of undesirable activity enabled. You need highly differentiated reward/punishment systems to limit these. Highway congestion, cruising, fraud, spam, advertising, etc.
6. Systemic disruptions. Here, the issue is effects which operate in difficult-to-forsee, systemic ways. CO2 and global warming, CFCs and ozone, asbestos, endocrine disrupters, nonnative species introduction, light pollution and wildlife disruption, are all examples.
Some of this overlaps with various other areas -- pollution, ecological principles, health and sanitation, etc. But I think the concept may be more general than any of these, and in terms of a technological dynamic, it has its own space, where the factors act to limit growth unless themselves specifically addressed.
Even "$500k/yr" is an improvement on "$500k p.a.".
Did you notice that a fluent English speaker had to ask what "p.a." meant? Do you think that would have happened if it had been written "per year" instead?
Because p.a. is also part of my language.
These are Latin phrases, borrowed especially in British English as Great Britain was occupied by Latin speakers for nearly 400 years -- 43 CE through 410 CE. Latin continued to be the language of diplomacy, religion, philosophy, and science through the 18th and 19th century.
It is, for all practical intents, proper British English.
Though yes, $<value>/yr. is more frequently seen especially in American English.
Can you explain how Latin loanwords were loaned into English during this period? In your explanation, please make use of the facts that (1) there were no English speakers in Great Britain before 410 CE, and moreover (2) there was, by definition, no such language as English until Anglo-Saxon migrations into Great Britain (around 450 CE) established a distinct West Germanic linguistic community on the island.
You are, otherwise, being what the modern English derivative of the Sumerian ansu describes.
It sounds like a 3-6 month, 3 person project to replicate with modern tech. I think all of the pieces of a Palantir-like system exist with open/free alternatives, but nobody has just bothered to write the glue code to make it happen.
This makes me wonder at the ultimate utility of the particular shape of a Palantir system if nobody else is bothering to do it in quite the same way.
It's probably some combination of PostgreSQL (plus PostGIS) + Elastic Search + Neo4j for the storage tech, pick-your-web-framework for the server-side, D3.js + some mapping library for the front-end and have all the major pieces. A few months of glue code and CRUD writing and it would be done. I'd definitely welcome a quick-to-deploy open/free alternative.
The real money is in the integration, ETL, ontology consulting service bit and so anybody could really build a company around that stuff.
What I find interesting about this is that in effect Palantir is acting as a consulting company while pretending to be a software tooling company. This allows them to claim a higher earnings multiple to inflate value and extract more money out of VCs and offer a lower percentage of equity to employees. This is a very old trick. The problem is that consulting companies are much harder to scale than software companies and the inevitable disappointment will lead to a loss of equity.
There is good money in consulting (I am one) but it's hard to build a large consulting company when the 'tooling' companies can poach your talent away with cheap VC money and fairy tales about future piles of cash. It spoils the market. VC powered tooling companies masquerading as consulting companies are a real problem right now.
My understanding is that many of the tooling companies who became consulting firms mostly jettisoned the tools along the way. Palantir has just let theirs stagnate.
"Ab Initio maintains a high level of secrecy regarding their products. Some people working with their product, even those who work for organizations who use Ab Initio, operate under a non-disclosure agreement which prevents them from revealing Ab Initio technical information to the public."
Yes, and that stuff takes years to build. You're missing the whole point of Palantir when you leave this as essentially a footnote.
As a sidenote, your info is outdated. At least for the user-facing portion (which I saw - I obviously didn't get to see the graph/backend internals), it's all web-app-based now. At least from a superficial perspective, the UI seemed pretty slick.
Well, I think that's their intention. Pretend to be a software tool maker, but really be a services group. However, that radically changes the investment/return story. Because software, once you make a tool, you can sell it a hundred billion times for pretty much no additional cost and make pure profit after the first few thousand seats pays off the initial investment. But humans (services) don't return investment like this and most services work is very one-off by nature.
> As a sidenote, your info is outdated. At least for the user-facing portion (which I saw - I obviously didn't get to see the graph/backend internals), it's all web-app-based now.
This is important either way:
- if they're still pushing out the JWS client they used to have available as a demo for most of a decade (Op Tradestop), then the VC money isn't funding technology, it's funding sales and marketing expansion of the core services business
- if they're using web tech, there's plenty of very good, very mature web tech that's open/free for anybody to use, killing off their "secret sauce" sales lead-in and their customer stickiness. Here's their only known publicly facing web tech  I'll let readers decide if this is the output of a $20billion valuation company or something a couple guys over a weekend could cook up.
- if their back-end is just big-data scalable whatever (and their technologies page seems to indicate it is ), then they aren't offering any value to their customers there either
1 - https://d3svb6mundity5.cloudfront.net/dashboard/index.html
2 - https://www.palantir.com/palantir-gotham/technologies/
Are you kidding me? If that extremely-slick dashboard (I hadn't seen it before) is representative of the quality of their UI for all their products (I actually doubt it is), as an enterprise/government company I am shocked they have not yet annihilated their competition. If it is representative, we now know why they have to spend money on lobbying - the only reason their competitors are alive is because of entrenched influence.
What's hilarious is you've broken down individual components of Palantir's offering and made the case that each individual component can be replaced by open-source or by a competitor. But that's literally missing the forest for the trees. It's the whole integrated package that matters. Nobody (or very few) is doing the whole package as well as they are.
If you read what I've said in this thread, I actually completely agree with you.
That map dashboard is like hundreds of similar dashboards I've seen elsewhere. I literally just saw a guy put something like that together in a couple weeks for an internal project where I work using mapbox and some d3.js bits. It even had a time slicer like this one and clickable map features.
So why isn't everybody as visible? I suspect getting a billion+/year in VC helps. But they've also managed to unify several key user-facing tools into a nice package and generalized it enough to support lots of different problem sets. Something that still seems beyond most companies.
From what I recall of their old public demo (Op Tradestop), their ontology data-input engine was pretty nice (if labor intensive) and it allowed for some easy to use queries against the enterpise graph. You can get pretty far locally with Visio, omnigraphle or yED, but they've managed to centralize the information input and retrieval in a nice way that seems easy enough to do by anybody who's seen it.
It might turn out that at scale it just doesn't provide enough value, or the labor intensive data entry parts make it not work well. Who knows?
Customers want dashboards and Palantir provides excellent dashboard tooling. Dashboards make people feel smart and feel like they are learning something. But dashboards are not as useful as people think and usually fail to return enough value to cover the cost. As Palantir is so expensive the bar is higher and often not met - hence the losing of customers.
Customers need data models but they don't know it yet. The charts used with models are usually not interesting if they exist at all. If you did show charts of the data models to the customer it often makes them feel dumb and out of control - few people like that. They're also dependent on you to interpret the models and customers don't like that either.
So given the choice of comforting lie or uncomfortable truth the vast majority will choose the lie. So if you're in the business of selling comforting lies don't be surprised when they fail to work.
My bet is Palantir knows more about their customer's needs than you do.