Mission Over Money & The State of Defense Tech with Palantir’s Shyam Sankar | E1908

Mission Over Money & The State of Defense Tech with Palantir’s Shyam Sankar | E1908

Jason joins Shyam Sankar of Palantir. (00:00:00)

  • Shyam Sankar is the 13th employee and current CTO of Palantir, a company founded in 2003 to aid in counterterrorism.
  • Colonel John Boyd developed the OODA Loop concept, which emphasizes decision advantage and speed in warfare.
  • Adaptability and the ability to iterate quickly on concepts are crucial for success in modern warfare.
  • NetSuite, Northwest Registered Agent, and Imagine AI Live are sponsors of the podcast.
  • Defense tech companies in the US play a vital role in national defense.
  • Silicon Valley's initial reluctance to engage in defense tech has shifted, with companies like Palantir leading the way.
  • Palantir's mission is to build software that helps organizations make better decisions.
  • Palantir's Foundry platform integrates and analyzes data from disparate sources to provide actionable insights.
  • Palantir's Gotham platform is used by the US government and military for counterterrorism and national security purposes.
  • Palantir's Apollo platform is designed for commercial applications, helping companies make data-driven decisions.
  • Adaptability and speed are essential for success in modern warfare.
  • The ability to quickly observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA Loop) is crucial.
  • Palantir's platforms enable rapid decision-making by providing real-time data and insights.
  • Palantir's work with the US military has helped improve situational awareness and decision-making on the battlefield.
  • The future of defense tech lies in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
  • AI and ML can be used to analyze vast amounts of data and identify patterns that humans may miss.
  • Palantir is investing heavily in AI and ML to enhance its platforms and provide even more value to its customers.
  • Palantir is committed to responsible AI development and ensuring that its technology is used for good.

Silcon valley’s shift in perception around defense tech and Palantir. (00:03:04)

  • Silicon Valley's initial disinterest in supporting the government, particularly the military, due to cultural heritage and anti-war sentiments.
  • Palantir's early days were marked by a lack of interest in government work, both from within the company and from investors.
  • A shift occurred where working with the government became politically distasteful and viewed as "evil."
  • Recent events, such as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, have led to a realization that there are threats to freedom and that history did not end with the fall of the Soviet Union.
  • This shift is seen as a reversion to the mean, aligning with the valley's origins and the historical role of the industrial base in providing for national security and prosperity.

Palentir being born out of 9/11 and the realization of the countries vulnerabilities. (00:05:09)

  • Palantir was formed after 9/11 in response to the terrorist attacks on American soil.
  • The attacks led to a deep scar and a questioning of how to deal with terrorism while preserving civil liberties.
  • The founders of Palantir recognized the need for technologies that could enhance security without compromising data protection and privacy.

How the US has managed to avoid another terrorist attack and what role Palentir’s products played. (00:07:59)

  • After 9/11, it was observed that the failure to connect data from different sources hindered efforts to prevent the attacks.
  • Palantir's technology infrastructure enables granular data sharing and collaboration among intelligence and law enforcement communities.
  • This allows for more productive and collaborative analysis of data, helping to prevent terrorist plots before they fully develop.

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One major failure regarding 9/11 attack. (00:10:48)

  • The failure of 9/11 was the inability to connect the dots and share information between different teams and agencies.
  • The value accretes in the seams between teams, and connecting the dots requires a comprehensive view of all the data and the ability to put the puzzle together in a compliant manner.
  • Palantir's first product was focused on counterterrorism and was used by the CIA and other government agencies.
  • It was well-received and effective in the field, helping to identify and track terrorist networks.

The Gotham Platform: Palantir's first product and how it borrowed from PayPal. (00:11:55)

  • Palantir's Gotham platform, initially designed for intelligence agencies, aimed to apply PayPal's fraud-fighting techniques to counterterrorism efforts.
  • Despite challenges in integrating diverse software systems, Gotham created a common model of the world, enabling efficient data integration and analysis.
  • The platform proved successful in combating improvised explosive device (IED) networks in Iraq and Afghanistan by targeting bomb-making networks.
  • Recognizing the lack of structured data in government customers, Gotham evolved to accommodate human intelligence reports and other unstructured data sources.
  • The transformed Gotham platform became an operations platform, enabling battle management, mission planning, and blue force tracking.
  • Currently used by many Western European intelligence services, Gotham provides deep knowledge of intelligence for successful mission execution.
  • Gotham facilitates tactical planning by integrating intelligence data into map-based plans and allows for continuous learning and adaptation during operations.
  • The platform leverages collective institutional knowledge to enhance operational precision, safety, and mission outcomes.
  • Retrospective analysis using Gotham's knowledge base offers insights into the effectiveness and turning points of long-term engagements.

The most valuable role software could play in defense tech. (00:18:12)

  • Software can act as a weapon system for the commander's mind, enhancing their ability to make strategic decisions.
  • It provides commanders with a deeper understanding of the battlefield, allowing them to plan more effectively.
  • Software helps commanders assess the effectiveness of their strategies and make necessary adjustments.

How defense tech data collection has changed over the years. (00:19:52)

  • The amount and fidelity of data collected for defense tech have significantly increased compared to 20 years ago.
  • Today, there is an abundance of data from various sources, including drones, satellites, and data networks.
  • The challenge lies in fusing this vast amount of data to make sense of the battlefield situation.
  • Data collection has become more sophisticated over time, with commercial Earth observation providing access to even non-state actors like the Ukrainians.
  • This democratization of data has advantages but also raises concerns, as adversaries can exploit it for terrorist activities.
  • The cost-effectiveness of drones and other technologies has changed the nature of warfare, requiring constant innovation to stay ahead of potential threats.

The role of AI and robotics play in the battlefield. (00:22:34)

  • The use of AI and robotics on the battlefield has shifted warfare to faster target identification and prosecution cycles, measured in minutes rather than days.
  • The goal of AI in military operations is to enhance automation and improve decision-making, particularly in identifying and prioritizing high-value targets for deterrence.
  • Language models have the potential to enhance automation and improve decision-making but face challenges in terms of reliability and accuracy due to their tendency to hallucinate and generate inconsistent responses.
  • Balancing the potential benefits of language models with their limitations requires careful consideration of their optimal applications and responsible deployment.
  • Language models should be integrated with existing human thought, traditional software, and algorithmic reasoning to avoid pitfalls and maximize their value.
  • Language models are not as good as subject matter experts but can be seen as infinite on-demand interns, capable of assisting in various tasks.
  • Reimagining workflows with language models, traditional software, and human experts can increase lethality in the government and improve automation and efficacy in businesses.
  • Language models are stochastic, like weather prediction, which requires a different approach to harnessing their value compared to deterministic traditional software.

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The autopilot approach of LLMs at Palentir and the analogy of self-driving cars. (00:30:38)

  • Palantir's approach to LLMs is similar to Tesla's autopilot approach to self-driving cars.
  • Palantir's LLM is not perfect but can perform an impressive array of tasks.
  • Palantir's LLM can help prevent accidents and improve traffic flow.
  • People are starting to understand Palantir's approach and its benefits.
  • Chatbots are not the terminal state of AI, and there's more to be done.
  • Institutions need to look for proof, not just proof of concepts.
  • Palantir is focused on building a toolchain around LLMs with AIP that enables users to get to proof quickly.
  • Palantir has already had early wins in the field.

Palantir's huge early wins with AI integration. (00:33:28)

  • Palantir's Shyam Sankar emphasizes the significance of mission-oriented companies and discusses the potential of defense technology.
  • Machine learning (ML) and large language models (LLMs) are replacing business process outsourcing (BPO) workers in India and the Philippines, and the next wave of ML adoption will impact call center employees and creative workers.
  • Real-time analysis of audio and conversations using ML can improve customer satisfaction, resolution time, and revenue in call centers.
  • In high-end manufacturing, ML can augment human experts' knowledge and skills, leading to increased production efficiency and reliability.
  • The most important data in an enterprise is often ephemeral, such as audio of conversations, as it contains the most up-to-date knowledge of reality.
  • Palantir's software enables employees to access and utilize previously inaccessible data sources, significantly enhancing employee productivity, especially among highly skilled workers.

The defense potential of LLMs and real time interpretation in the field. (00:38:01)

  • LLMs and real-time interpretation have significant defense potential in various settings, including battlefields and factory floors.
  • Augmented reality (AR) devices like Apple Vision Pro and cameras used by special forces provide live video feeds that can be analyzed in real-time.
  • Real-time analysis of conversations can detect anxiety and other emotional states, providing valuable insights for decision-making.
  • LLMs can process vast amounts of information, helping to identify relevant and pertinent data for human review.
  • Multimodal language models can combine visual and audio data to enhance situational awareness and decision-making.
  • AR and real-time interpretation are being actively developed for defense applications.

The importance of RF in the modern battlefield. (00:39:51)

  • Electronic warfare and electromagnetic spectrum control will be crucial in future warfare, with controlling RF emissions essential for mission survivability.
  • Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will enhance collaborative planning and situational awareness during operations.
  • Mobile devices pose security risks due to detectable signals, while GPS jamming and communication disruption can hinder operational effectiveness.
  • Connectivity has become a critical tactical consideration, and soldiers may need to rely on traditional navigation methods due to potential electronic systems disruption.
  • The US government initially relied on commercial GPS receivers before making the technology publicly available, leading to its widespread recognition and subsequent efforts by adversaries to deny its use.
  • Potential future conflicts in regions like Taiwan, Iran, or between Israel and the US could involve advanced defense technologies.

Discussing Putin’s serious threat. (00:45:32)

  • Putin is a serious threat to Western democracies.
  • Russia's reindustrialization is a significant concern.
  • Europe's munitions production is insufficient.
  • The US has moved slowly in ramping up its industrial production.
  • The historical lessons from World War II are relevant to the current situation.
  • Lend Lease was a US policy to lend or lease equipment to allies during World War II.
  • The US was not yet a participant in the war but was the world's best at mass production.
  • It took 12 months to build factories and six months to retool them for war production.
  • America's lead-up to rearmament and reindustrialization was crucial to winning World War II.
  • The US is not providing Ukraine with modern equipment coming off the factory floor.
  • The US is clearing out its old inventory that it was probably never going to use.
  • This is a paradox of war, as countries want to be prepared but hope they never have to use their weapons.

How the defense industrial base was managed and consolidated after WWII (00:48:54)

  • The US defense industry struggles to meet munitions demand due to a lack of political consensus on reindustrialization, which involves large-scale manufacturing.
  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the defense budget was cut by 67%, leading to the consolidation of defense primes and a shift towards efficiency rather than innovation.
  • The current manufacturing approach is limited by the innovation available within the defense ecosystem.
  • Private sector involvement, such as Tesla's manufacturing improvements and Intel's focus on commercial markets, can bring significant advancements.
  • Utilizing the Defense Production Act to engage modern manufacturers like Tesla, automotive OEMs, and startups can transform defense systems production.
  • Defense tech has attracted investor interest due to the success of companies like Palantir, Tesla, SpaceX, and Andrel.
  • Investors recognize the potential rewards of defense tech despite the challenges of working with the government as a customer.

The future of defense tech, the speed of innovation and enemy adaptation. (00:53:48)

  • The rapid adaptation and iteration of new technologies are crucial in modern warfare, as demonstrated by the quick obsolescence of drones due to enemy adaptation.
  • Space has become a contested domain, with potential adversaries like Russia and China developing anti-satellite technologies, necessitating a focus on maintaining capabilities there.
  • The Chinese hypersonic glide vehicle poses significant challenges for space domain awareness and the ability to detect and deter threats, requiring an integrated view of all domains to prevent surprise and deter conflict.
  • Hypersonic missiles pose significant challenges due to their unpredictable flight patterns, high speed, and ability to fly close to the Earth, making them harder to detect and intercept.
  • America's significant advantage in software development can be leveraged in defense technology to drive deterrence and counter potential conflicts.
  • The current defense tech funding approach in DC leads to the creation of "zombie companies" that hinder further investment in the sector.
  • America's exceptionalism lies in its risk-taking capital structure and innovative entrepreneurs, which drive companies like Palantir.
  • Palantir's mission-oriented approach, prioritizing national significance over financial gain, is commendable.
  • Despite the messy nature of protecting the country and the lack of clear winners in wars, companies like Palantir play a vital role in preserving democracy and freedom.
  • The world has seen overall progress, but the number of people living in democracies has decreased, requiring effort to promote and protect freedom and prosperity.

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