Palantir Technologies: Recycling Day Old Hash

July 31, 2017

I read “Palantir: The Special Ops Tech Giant That Wields As Much Real World Power as Google.” I noticed these hot buttons here:

“Special ops” for the Seal Team 6 vibe. Check.

“Wields” for the notion of great power. Check.

“Real world.” A reminder of the here and now, not an airy fairy digital wonkiness. Check.

“Google.” Yes. Palantir as potent as the ad giant Google. Check.

That’s quite a headline.

The write up itself is another journalistic exposé of software which ingests digital information and outputs maps, reports, and visualizations. Humans index too. Like the i2 Analyst Notebook, the “magic” is mostly external. Making these Fancy Dan software systems work requires computers, of course. Humans are needed too. Trained humans are quite important, essential, in fact.

The Guardian story seems to be a book review presented as a Gladwell-like revisionist anecdote. See, for example, Done: The Secret Deals That Are Changing Our World by Jacques Peretti (Hodder & Stoughton, £20). You can buy a copy from (Online ad? Maybe?)

Read the Palantir story which stuffed my Talkwalker alert with references to the article. Quite a few bloggers are recycling the Guardian newspaper story. Buzzfeed’s coverage of the Palo Alto company evoked the same reaction. I will come back to the gaps in these analyses in a moment.

The main point of the Guardian’s July 30, 2017, story strikes me as:

Palantir tracks everyone from potential terrorist suspects to corporate fraudsters…child traffickers, and what they refer to as subversives. But it all done using prediction.

Right. Everyone! Potential terrorist suspects! And my favorite “all”. Using “prediction” no less.

Sounds scary. I am not sure the platforms work with the type of reliability that the word “all” suggests. But this is about selling books, not Palantir and similar companies’ functionality, statistical methods, or magical content processing. Confusing Hollywood with reality is easy today: At least for some folks.

Palantir licenses software to organizations. Palantir is an “it,” not a they. The company uses the lingo of its customers. Subversives is one term, but it is more suggestive in my opinion than “bad actor,” “criminal,” “suspect,” or terrorist.” I think the word “tracks” is pivotal. Palantir’s professionals, like Pathfinder, look at deer tracks and nails the beastie. I want to point out that “prediction”—partly the Bayesian, Monte Carlo, and Markovian methods pioneered by Autonomy in the mid 1990s—is indeed used for certain processes. What’s omitted is that Palantir is just one company in the content processing and search and retrieval game. I am not convinced that its systems and methods are the best ones available today. (Check out Recorded Future, a Google and In-Q-Tel funded company for some big league methods. And there are others. In my CyberOSINT book and my Dark Web Notebook I identify about two dozen companies providing similar services. Palantir is one, admittedly high profile example, of next generation information access providers.

The write up does reveal at the end of the article that the Guardian is selling Jacque Peretti’s book. That’s okay. What’s operating under the radar is a book promo that seems to be one thing but is, in the real world, a nifty book promotion.

In closing, the information presented in the write up struck me as a trifle stale. I am okay with collections of information that have been assembled to make it easy for a reader to get the gist of a system quickly. My Dark Web Notebook is a Cliff’s Notes about what one Tor executive suggests does not exist.

When I read about Palantir, I look for information about:

  • Technical innovations within Gotham and Palantir’s other “products”
  • Details about the legal dust up between i2 and Palantir regarding file formats, an issue which has some here and now relevance with the New York police department’s Palantir experience
  • Interface methods which are designed to make it easier to perform certain data analysis functions
  • Specifics about the data loading, file conversion, and pre-processing index tasks and how these impact timeliness of the information in the systems
  • Issues regarding data reconciliation when local installs lose contact with cloud resources within a unit and across units
  • Financial performance of the company as it relates to stock held by stakeholders and those who want the company to pursue an initial public offering
  • What are the specific differences among systems on offer from BAE, Textron, and others with regards to Palantir Gotham?

Each time I read about Palantir these particular items seem to be ignored. Perhaps these are not sufficiently sexy or maybe getting the information is a great deal of work? The words “hash” and “rehash” come to my mind as one way to create something that seems filling but may be empty calories. Perhaps a “real journalist” will tackle some of the dot points. That would be more interesting than a stale reference to special effects in a star vehicle.

NB. I was an adviser to i2 Group Ltd., the outfit that created the Analyst’s Notebook.

Stephen E Arnold, July 31, 2017

Helpful Search Operators for Google Users

July 31, 2017

We have found a resource that can help readers google like never before: GoogleGuide’s article is titled simply, “Search Operators.” Unsatisfied with the information she found at Google’s website, mathematician and search enthusiast Nancy Blachman started GoogleGuide to enlighten us all on advanced Google Search methods. In “Search Operators,” she and colleague Jerry Peek educate us on one exacting approach. They write:

The following is an alphabetical list of the search operators. This list includes operators that are not officially supported by Google and not listed in Google’s online help. Note: Google may change how undocumented operators work or may eliminate them completely. Each entry typically includes the syntax, the capabilities, and an example.

The article leads with a table listing the search operators next to the relevant Google service: Web search, image search, groups, etc., which can be cross-referenced with the alphabetical list. Operator functions include useful tasks like searching for specific pages by title, discovering who has linked to a certain website and restricting searches by file type. The team even concludes with a set of exercises for practice with the operators. Check it out to make your internet searches even more efficient.

Cynthia Murrell, July 31, 2017

The EU Takes on Google in Landmark Case

July 31, 2017

It seems like Google is everyone’s favorite punching back, especially when it comes to anti-trust and monopolizing. Recently the EU has decided to take on the behemoth with a series of crushing fines.

One allegation is that Google is preferring its own shopping service when users search for products. The EU claims this violates antitrust laws although no such case has ever been tried. explains why this is such a momentous case:

The legal battles will also provide helpful markers for the fast-moving tech industry and regulators struggling to impose old rules on new markets and dominant social platforms, said economist, Georgios Petropoulos. ‘We need some decisions on what is good and what is bad. All these will provide more clarity on how this market works,’ said Collyer Bristow lawyer, Stephen Critchley.

Surely, the US and others are keeping a close eye on how these cases unfold. Could Google, as it is known today, be forced to drastically change how they operate? What might this mean for other search engines?

Catherine Lamsfuss, July 31, 2017

Google: Ethics, Algorithms and Pirates, Oh My!

July 28, 2017

That search engines have changed the way the world looks for information, no one will argue, but for as much good as Google and other major search engines have done at promoting the free sharing of all types of information, it has also allowed and, at the time, encouraged the illegal sharing of private property. Namely, search engines are encouraging, even if absently, piracy of music and video.

Recently, despite vowing the contrary, Google has been called out for pirate sites being found not only in the coveted ‘top 10’ of search results, but even highlighted by Google.

The findings aren’t going to help Google’s already contentious relationship with the music and video industries, both of which have spent years accusing Google of doing too little to prevent piracy. They’ve routinely argued that Google should outright remove pirate sites from its results, not just demote them…

Google claims the algorithm is to blame – it is too good at finding the results people want. This puts Google in yet another tough spot. Should they continue to let the algorithm rule, come what may, or tinker with it to punish pirates? If the latter is to be, what does this say for other controversial sites?

Catherine Lamsfuss, July 28, 2017

Optimizing the Noisy Internet

July 28, 2017

Humans love to complain, especially the older generations about how their youth was superior to the current day.  Alan Franzoni rants about how the Internet has gotten too noisy in “Stopping The Internet Noise-A Useful Internet Back Again.”  Franzoni complains that the modern Internet is not as useful as the Internet of the 56K modem days.  He lists the ways the old Internet was more productive.  He starts with old Usenet discussion groups and mailing lists.  What he liked about this old discussion boards were that he could subscribe to one application service instead of having to do it multiple times.  He then turns to IRC chatting, citing its superiority because it was a single application with a consistent interface.

He bemoans the loss of Google Reader, which is an actual loss.  The ability to read all of your daily Web sites in one consistent feed was nice.  What Franzoni hates is that he cannot mark things as reading, there is zero to little API, and there is not any focus.  This is what he wants and suggests how the Internet can be improved:

•Topics. Google Plus created somethings similar to that with Collections (without RSS, of course); or we could just create a blog or username for each of our topics – I think most of us won’t discuss about so many totally unrelated different fields. It’s a change of mentality – we shouldn’t write something just because we can. Unless we are celebrities, people, especially strangers, won’t follow us just for the sake of it – we need actual, quality content. Smallchat is fine on FB or Twitter.


APIs. I’m not saying we should get back to IRC or to NNTP. But we need a common API for Instant Messaging and forum-like software so that people can use their favorite tools to organize their data sources. Installing tons of apps or visiting tens of websites every day is not an option.

His rant is about the lack of a good app that digests the Internet into a single, serves reading list.  Franzoni really needs to try out the Feedly app.

Whitney Grace, July 28, 2017


Doctors Fearful of Technology? Too Bad for Them and Maybe the Patients?

July 27, 2017

IBM, Google, and other outfits want doctors to get with the technology program. Sure, docs use mobile phones, but email and such wonderful innovations as selfies from the operating theatre have not yet caught on. Watching my doc fumble with the required online medical record system is interesting. Try it sometime. Puzzled expressions, eye squinting, and sloooow keyboarding are part of the show. One of my docs expressed interest in my Dark Web Notebook. I sent him a link so he could download a comp copy. Guess what? He couldn’t figure out how to download the book. Amazing expertise.

I read a Thomson Reuters’ article which seems to stray dangerously close to my view of technology in the medical profession. Mind you, here in Louisville sales people are in the operating room to provide information to a doc who may not be familiar with a new gadget. Get enough gadgets and peddlers in the facility and the patients may have to rest on gurneys in the hall.

But I digress. The write up i noticed was “Doctors View Technology as Largely Problematic.” I highlighted this “real” news statement:

69 percent of the 100 doctors in the audience said increased reliance on technology and electronic health records only served to separate them from their patients….But the biggest problem stemming from technology for the doctors, and the bane of many doctors’ existence, is the electronic health record, also known as an EHR.

Now think about the over the top marketing from IBM about Watson’s ability in a narrow field like bladder cancer. Put that Anderson affair out of your main. Google continues to push forward with an even more interesting approach. I recall the phrase was “solving death.” And there are other outfits which believe that their technologists can make life so much better for doctors.

Seems like the revolution may take a bit more time. The good news is that since Google has not solved death, the doubting docs will die. Their replacements may be more into the IBM, Google, et al approach to health care.

No worries in Harrod’s Creek. We just use a mixture of black powder and bourbon to cure all manner of ills.

Stephen E Arnold, July 27, 2017

Free Content Destroying Print Media

July 27, 2017

Today’s generation has no concept of having to wait for the day’s top stories till the newspaper is delivered. If they want to know something (or even they don’t) they simply turn on their Smart phone, tablet or even watch! With news stories available 24/7 with automatic alerts, most people under thirty can’t possibly fathom paying for it.

It almost wasn’t that way. According to Poynter,

In the 1990s, a cantankerous, bottom-line-obsessed and visionary Tribune Company executive named Charles Brumback pushed something that was called The New Century News Network. The top print news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Times-Mirror would form a network in which they’d house their content online and charge for it. Members would get paid based on usage. They even started a newswire that was similar to what we know as Google News.

Unfortunately, the heads of print media couldn’t see the future and how their pockets would be deflated due to the giving away of their content to online giants such as Facebook and Yahoo and Google.

Now, these same short-sighted network bigwigs are wanting Congress to intervene on their behalf. As the article points out, “running to Congress seems belated and impotent.”

Catherine Lamsfuss, July 27, 2017

Google Invests in Robot Reporters

July 27, 2017

People fear that robots will replace them in the workforce, but reporters did not have to deal with this worry.  Machines lack the capability to write cohesive news pieces, except that robots are getting smarter.  Google might become the bane of news reporters, because of Business Insider shares that, “Google Is Giving The Press Association £622,000 To Create An Army Of Robot Reporters.”  Google granted the Press Association £622,000 ($810,000) to develop robots the can write 30,000 stories per day for news outlets.

The funds come from Google’s Digital News Initiative will dole out the $810,000 over three years to “stimulate and support innovation in digital journalism across Europe’s news industry.”  The Press Association dubbed the project “Reporters and Data and Robots” (RADAR) that will also run in tandem with the news startup Urbs Media.  The robots will produce stories by:

The robot reporters will draw on open data sets on the internet and use natural Language Generation (NLG) software to produce their copy, PA said.


The data sets — to be identified and recorded by a new team of five human journalists — will come from government departments, local authorities, NHS Trusts and more, PA said, adding that they will provide detailed story templates across a range of topics including crime, health, and employment.

The head of the Press Association says that RADAR will ease pressures on news outlets in a cost-effective way while providing local stories.  While this might work, the naysayers are stating that human reports are still needed to cover local news, because it requires investigation and personal relationships.  All we can say is that both arguments are correct.

Whitney Grace, July 27, 2017

Shopping List of Technologies That Will Make Life Really Good… Well, Some Lives’ Lives

July 26, 2017

I read or rather scanned an infographic called “Things to Come: A Timeline of Technology.” Sci fi? Nope, the stuff that makes VCs’ ice cold blood flow just a little bit faster. In terms of search, two entries seem to suggest that finding information will be a semi big thing:

  • 2036, The next evolution of AI. Okay, but won’t today’s whiz bang systems get better really rapidly? According to the “Things to Come”, AI has its booster rocker fired in 19 years. Make your hotel reservation the IBM Watson B&B today.
  • 2040. Genetic computing. Okay, more than a GIF in a protein chain and less than a quantum computer maybe?
  • 2045, Algorithmic advances. Hmm. Algorithms are “evolving” if one is into the genetic algorithms. For the rule-based approaches, that seems to move less rapidly. But advances down the road in 28 years. Seems like a made up target date. But that’s just the view of an old guy in rural Kentucky

What I did like about the VC blood enhancer was this list of buzzwords. How many can you define?

  1. Eye controlled technology
  2. Paper diagnostics
  3. Designer antibiotics
  4. Ingestible robots
  5. Smart clothing
  6. Photonics in space
  7. Volcanic mining
  8. Spintronics revolution
  9. Carbon breathing batteries
  10. Super antivirals
  11. Diamond batteries
  12. Optogenetics
  13. Nano feasibility
  14. Unhackable quantum Internet
  15. Cheap solar power
  16. Biomimetic materials
  17. 3D printing in every home
  18. Fully immersive computer interface
  19. Self sufficient energy ecosystem
  20. Germ line genetic modification
  21. Holograpic pets
  22. Rapid genetic screening
  23. Microwave rockets
  24. Space based solar energy
  25. Fusion power
  26. Evolutionary enhancement
  27. Carbon sequestration
  28. Geoengineering
  29. Wavetop and undersea cities
  30. Geoneutrino satellites.

This list reminds me of my eavesdropping on a group of PC Magazine editors cooking up a list of the Top 10 trends in personal computers or the brainstorming sessions at Booz, Allen when a Top Dog said, “We need to identify hot business trends.”

Anyway, you can use these buzzwords in your LinkedIn résumé or in your next tweet. Better yet, print out the list and look for mid tier consulting firms at the next conference you attend. You can pitch your expertise in wave top and undersea cities and hope the individual with whom you are speaking has never watched the film Waterworld.

Stephen E Arnold, July 26, 2017

Western in Western Out

July 26, 2017

A thoughtful piece at Quartz looks past filter bubbles to other ways mostly Western developers are gradually imposing their cultural perspectives on the rest of the world—“Silicon Valley Has Designed Algorithms to Reflect Your Biases, Not Disrupt Them.” Search will not get you objective information, but rather the content your behavior warrants. Writer Ramesh Srinivasan introduces his argument:

Silicon Valley dominates the internet—and that prevents us from learning more deeply about other people, cultures, and places. To support richer understandings of one another across our differences, we need to redesign social media networks and search systems to better represent diverse cultural and political perspectives. The most prominent and globally used social media networks and search engines— Facebook and Google—are produced and shaped by engineers from corporations based in Europe and North America. As a result, technologies used by nearly 2 billion people worldwide reflect the design perspectives of the limited few from the West who have power over how these systems are developed.

It is worth reading the whole article for its examination of the issue, and suggestions for what to do about it. Algorithm transparency, for example, would at least let users know what principles guide a platform’s  content selections. Taking input from user communities in other cultures is another idea. My favorite is a proposal to prioritize firsthand sources over Western interpretations, even ones with low traffic or that are not in English. As Srinivasan writes:

Just because this option may be the easiest for me to understand doesn’t mean that it should be the perspective I am offered.

That sums up the issue nicely.

Cynthia Murrell, July 26, 2017

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