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The importance of big data to data science is absolutely paramount. In the last few years, the utilization of tools such as R and Stata have enabled the analysis of multiple terabytes of data at once, allowing for previously impossible wide-range analysis of data and the discovery of hidden “links” between data points that were previously obscured.
Palantir is first and foremost a “big data” company. Though it manages to stay relatively under the radar, somewhat intentionally due to its private ownership and governmental connections, the firm has been one of the most important developers of wide-scale geographic and transactional mapping. For instance, the firm’s “Gotham” software, which is focused on quantitative analysis, primarily in the financial world, has proven useful for analyzing huge amounts of transactional data for retailers. For instance, the tool can combine credit card numbers with addresses utilized in purchases, even with “click-and-mortar” retailers such as Walmart; as such, a single online purchase is sufficient to tie a customer’s entire previous transaction history together.
Palantir’s work has been not without controversy. The company’s name itself has somewhat dark undertones, as it is named for the Palantir, a “seeing stone” utilized by the eventually evil wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings to monitor all happenings in his kingdom. In the aftermath of the Wikileaks scandal, various governmental and private investigative firms proposed utilizing Palantir technology to track potential donors to WikiLeaks, as well as identify possible leakers. The tools Palantir have constructed are immensely powerful; as with its namesake, care must be taken to ensure their constitutional, effective use.
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