May 25, 2023
Palantir Signs on For Reconstruction Work in War-Torn Ukraine
(Bloomberg) -- Palantir Technologies Inc. will deepen its relationship with Ukraine, seeking to help power the country’s reconstruction efforts, the company and Ukrainian officials said.
Co-founded by the tech billionaire Peter Thiel, Palantir has been working with Ukrainian officials since last year, providing software and incorporating artificial intelligence technologies to power battlefield decision making. The latest partnership, set to be announced Thursday, will focus on reconstruction with an emphasis on reestablishing schools in war-torn areas.
“AI would be helpful to focus on how many new schools are needed,” said Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukrainian vice prime minister for innovation and development of education, in an interview through a translator. “We need to know how many children have no schools to go back to.”
Palantir established operations in Ukraine a few weeks after the war began. Ukrainian officials first used Palantir software to help resettle Ukrainian refugees to the UK, Lithuania and Poland. The country has since expanded its use of the software to assist with military operations, including analyzing satellite images, Fedorov said.
He said Palantir uses AI to decipher imagery from satellites and drones — information that’s then fed into Palantir’s larger software platform used to make battlefield decisions. Denver-based Palantir has software engineers on the ground in the country, it said, but declined to give the exact number, citing security concerns.
Palantir is part of a wave of American tech companies that have offered their services to Ukrainian officials since Russia invaded the country last year. Elon Musk’s satellite company Starlink has provided communications there, and drone startups including Skydio Inc., backed by Andreessen Horowitz, and Brinc Drones, supported by OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman, have donated hardware and services.
Fedorov said that the country doesn’t take every company up on offers of support, and that some pitches about the promise of AI technology have fallen short. “Of course the future is AI, but this technology is in its fledgling state,” Fedorov said, adding that some recent presentations from tech vendors resemble “R&D projects.”
Palantir has a long history of working with government customers, including the US military, as well as offering AI services. This month the company released an early version of its Artificial Intelligence Platform and promoted new features including a chat-like function to help military users more quickly analyze intelligence and take action. Palantir has released the platform to select customers — but so far Ukraine is not among them, it said.
Though in its early stages, the military use of AI for battlefield applications has raised alarms for some, already wary of Palantir’s use by the US to target adversaries in Afghanistan and other conflicts. Palantir software fuses information from far-flung data sources, including information from AI-processed images, wearable sensors and counterintelligence, into one centralized view for military operations. Military commanders in places like Afghanistan have used this as a dashboard to make decisions and more effectively target and kill enemy combatants.
Military applications of AI raise the specter of a potentially dangerous technological arms race with US rivals like China and Russia. Other leaders in the industry say that more AI development is important to ensure the US doesn’t lose its increasingly important technological edge.
Palantir Chief Executive Officer Alex Karp and Thiel have often said Palantir has “chosen sides” and will only do business with the US and its allies. The company has said it won't work with China and Russia. It is not charging Ukraine for its services.
Fedorov said that Ukraine uses AI for some military purposes now. He also said he expects the technology will help officials make decisions around rebuilding critical infrastructure. As part of the new broad reconstruction agreement with Palantir, the company will help Ukraine leverage its already large pool of tech talent to reestablish itself as an industry center.
Palantir Executive Vice President for Europe Louis Mosley said additional details around economic development will be determined in coming months. “Their ambition is to make Ukraine a tech hub and powerhouse within Europe,” Mosley said.
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