How Palantir Saved 1,500 Jobs At A Car Plant
The Role of Technology
What is the role of technology? Is it supposed to make our lives better? Is it supposed to make us more money? Is it supposed to replace the parts of our lives we hate?
It's a deeply philosophical question that has profound practical consequences for those that engage in the world of technology. If you build something that can help make life easier, but at the same time replaces the entire need for a whole subset of the population, was it even worth building in the first place?
The techno-optimists would argue that the question itself does not have a real premise. One cannot argue if technology is "good or bad," because technology does what it is meant to do: constantly evolve.
There was no stopping the advance of social media to replace linear based television as a means of consuming content., There was no stopping of Uber democratizing access to become a full time driver and remove one's self from the stranglehold of taxi companies.
If a technology emerges that makes the world more efficient at the intersection of positive unit economics, it will permeate our society and there is nothing we can do about it.
Leaving Silicon Valley
Palantir chose to leave Silicon Valley for Denver primarily because they believed it was a "mono-culture."
Karp has been known to describe the Valley as a place that only wants a dominant view to prevail, even if that dominant view is contradictory to everything the United States stands for. For example, he has routinely criticized technology companies for working with adversaries of the united states, like China & Russia, but not working for the United State's own government. Palantir has never had this ethical problem because they always refused to work with China and Russia.
Many technologists in Silicon Valley are trying to figure out how to replace humans. If we could just get robots to do everything, wouldn't that make the world more efficient?
Maybe. But on the flip side, many people that have no purpose in their lives outside of what they do for work (which is most of the planet outside of the extremely privileged that find purpose in their art or passions) need some sort of stability in their life. Purpose provides stability, and if that purpose disappears because of automation, that could collapse entire populations and their pursuit of meaning.
Quite the existential problem.
How Palantir Approaches This
Palantir has always been on the side of not wanting to replace workers with technology, but rather aid them by giving them the tools to better do their jobs, not take their jobs away.
I came across an old interview of Karp speaking in 2018, here's what he had to say on automation and Palantir's role in it:
"We're recently now very focused is innovation with jobs now why should we care well because if you don't have jobs you're not gonna have democracy and I think you know I mean obviously we were born in Silicon Valley and we're of Silicon Valley in some ways but but this this this movement towards innovation with no jobs is really hurting our society and it's it's bad for companies it's bad for our country it's it's bad for our partners and what's made our product successful is when we find a convergence between philosophical moral and technical things we bring it together."
Palantir has recognized the complexities of technology at the intersection of profits and ultimately chosen a side. If they can create technology that makes businesses better without having to destroy the foundation of democracy, people having a purpose in their life through jobs, then that is going to be the way they tackle the innovation/automation problem.
Karp further explains:
"Palantir software is creating jobs at a Chrysler plant, it's preserving jobs because once the
1500 employees are using the software they're actually doing things that otherwise you'd need a PhD to do and so you're making them as valuable as the PhD in software and it scales across the enterprise so they're more valuable than a single PhD in software."
Karp's argument here was that in order to make the supply chain and logistics more efficient in a Chrysler (automobile) plant, a vast amount of interpretation of data is involved. Either you can have one data scientist step in and replace all those jobs, you can have a robot on some machine interpret all that data, or you can create a software platform that is user-friendly enough to work with non technical people and give them the tools to make business intelligence decisions that drive outcomes for the business without having to replace their jobs.
If workers could become as intelligent as the software trying to replace them by finding the symbiotic relationship between how they can actually use the software on the ground - then a healthy marriage between innovation and democracy can persist because employees are offering value to the enterprise that are net positive from a unit economical sense.
The key here is that very few companies are trying to actually make sure that world is coming to fruition. Too many, in the words of Karp, are worried about how to get rid of the worker at innovate at all costs.
At least to Palantir, innovation can happen without destroying democracy. Personally, I'd like to bet my money on the software company actually trying to solve the problems that exist on earth, not the ones running to the metaverse.