CEO Series: The Next Seismic Shift – Understanding Big Data, An Interview with Palantir’s Michael Lopp
The Aspen Ideas Festival CEO Series included a session featuring Palantir’s Michael Lopp, interviewed by Elliot Gerson of the Aspen Institute. Palantir’s noble goal of “helping to solve the world’s problems by radically changing how groups analyze information,” has made this young, ambitious, big data company the talk of the Silicon Valley.
Palantir, which was founded in 2004 by a small group of PayPal alumni and Stanford computer scientists, works with many kinds of data: structured, unstructured, relational, temporal, and geospatial, and offers two products: one for government and one for finance. Its government solution is used by the intelligence and defense industries, and law enforcement; its finance platform is used by hedge funds and financial institutions. Lopp explains that Palantir’s primary competition is internal IT shops. “Companies come to us when their internal IT shops haven’t done what they said they could do or need to do.”
Palantir helps its customers integrate, visualize, and analyze information, but Lopp is quick to say that Palantir is not a data visualization company. “We’re much more than that, but visualization as an arrow in our quiver is really compelling. It allows you to figure out what the story is from what you’re looking at.”
To illustrate what the company does, Lopp shared an example of how the US military uses Palantir’s government product:
“Men and women putting their lives on the line were going into different hostile areas and the important information they needed was being written on a card, or passed by word of mouth and knowledge was being lost. Now these guys and gals have a laptop and they put all the data there, which is making them safer by building situational awareness. This isn’t a big data thing, it’s a collaboration thing, and it’s a thing I’m particularly proud of,” says Lopp. “At the end of the day, what we’re doing matters,” says Lopp.
He continues, “We don’t want to give up control to the computer, we want human beings to be able to make decisions [based on the data] so they can take action.”
“The problem is the data divide. How do we make data for humans? Think of data as humanity’s dashboard. How do we get to the point where people can use data to chase a thought. That’s what Palantir is working on.”
Gerson asked Lopp what makes the Silicon Valley so unique. “It’s really pretty simple,” responded Lopp, who previously worked at Apple, Netscape, Symantec, and Borland, and authored the book, Being Geek. “It comes from the the history of semi conductors starting there, and that made it a mecca for nerds… That is the key thing, you just have so much access to talent.” He continued, “We love taking risks and taking risks means you’re going to fail. But we’re okay with failing, because there’s a sense that you can change the world quickly with the things that you build.”