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 Transparent Society: Adapting Society To Dataveillance

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Deckard



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PostSubject: Transparent Society: Adapting Society To Dataveillance   Mon 05 Jul 2010, 9:16 pm

Sometime ago I was watching a roundtable discussion between Michael Crichton (author of several books critical of genetic engineering, climate change and the surveillance state) and his anti-thesis, David Brin (author of the book 'The Transparent Society', which will be the main subject of this discussion).



During that discussion, Brin remarked preposterously that George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty Four' didn't come to pass eventually because too many people picked up on the idea of it being bad. I remember thinking - "Holy crap, what kind of drugs is this guy smoking? How can he not see the surveillance society that has crept up all around us?". His entire argument could have been summarized down to one line: "Well, people are carrying the cameras themselves - so they themselves are in power - they are freed from the elites who previously were the only ones in possession of this kind of surveillance)

Needless to say, David Brin (former NASA consultant) is a change vector of the most cynical kind. Similar to how the Military-Industrial Academic Complex approached Samuel Huntington to provide a cosmological explanation for 'clashes between civilizations' (that would serve as the pretext for false-flag events such as 9/11), David Brin was the equivalent of the authorized scribes who needed to find a way to get society to adapt itself to a surveillance state without cries of wanting to restore the former system - where there was not this kind of overt control.


David Brin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brin

He was there on that show to further acclimatize the public to his new way of managing society, namely the 'Transparent Society'. At the time of me watching that video, I had no idea that his conception of being 'free of the elites' because everybody has their own cameras - well, he has already factored into the equation that it's live ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), you see, as I'll explain in a minute.



The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? (1998)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Transparent_Society



Quote :

The Transparent Society (1998) is a non-fiction book by the science-fiction author David Brin in which he forecasts social transparency some degree of erosion of privacy, as it is overtaken by low-cost surveillance, communication and database technology, and proposes new institutions and practices that he believes would provide benefits that would more than compensate for lost privacy. The work first appeared as a magazine article by Brin in Wired in late 1996. (My note: Wired Magazine was an initiative by the same fellows who founded the Whole Earth Catalog and was founded by a cadre of Anglo-Dutch futurists and trendsetters. Wired Magazine is the main purveyor of cybernetics, transhumanism, the 'information age' revolution, and so on. For more info, see Mark Stahlman's 'Wired And The English Ideology])[1]

Privacy definition has changed

Take note that when people talk of privacy, a kind of slimmed-down, neutered version is actually being proposed - this will be further illustrated later on in this post.

There's an excellent essay contained in the book 'Social Computing: Concepts, Methodology, Tools, and Application that sheds some light on this predicament we find ourselves in.

Public Intimacy and the New Face (Book) of Surveillance: The Role of Social Media in Shaping Contemporary Dataveillance
Lemi Baruh
Kadir Has University, Turkey

Levent Soysal
Kadir Has University, Turkey


Quote :

Noting this trend, Andrejevic (2007) argues that privacy is now the keyword for increased surveillance with “diminished oversight and accountability” (p. 7).

The Transparent Society
The gist of the Transparent Society seems to be - in my own words:



Hey, due to surveillance equipment becoming cheap as heck, you are not going to get around the fact that we're going to have an increased surveillance state. That is already a foregone conclusion.

So, instead, let's ADAPT people to this 'surveillance state' - and have them all be more 'transparent' - be more 'open'. So, if you know you're being watched, REVEL IN IT - turn it into a public spectacle. If you're taking a shower at home and all the walls in your house are see-through, well, yeah, people can look at you naked, but hey, you have nothing to hide, right? And if it really bothers you that much, you can turn on the transparency shade so that they only see a silhouette.

Basically, you become an open book to everyone else and the authorities, further erasing individuality and helping bring into existence some kind of beehive where all the worker beings do what they're told without worrying about retaining any semblance of privacy.



Sousveillance - start surveilling yourself


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sousveillance

Sousveillance is when you start wearing cameras around your neck and start monitoring yourself with surveillance equipment in your home so everybody can know what you're up to.



Quote :
David Brin with sousveillance "maybecamera" at the Association of Computing Machinery's (ACM's) CFP conference where such a sousveillance device was given to each attendee. Brin participated in the Opening Keynote on the "inverse panopticon".



Quote :
This wearable wireless webcam captures a recording of the wearer's personal experience whenever he desires. (My note: As in 'vlogging')

Inverse panopticon

They're trying to get society to start to conform all their daily habits and behaviors around the surveillance state so that the 'panopticon' has an even more complete information overview into everybody's private lives. When you need everyone to be watched at all times, what better way than for them to do it to themselves?

Wow, the ingenious evil that emanates from all this really is mindboggling. This, together with Skinner's book arguing that 'we can no longer afford freedom' and HG Wells' conception of the World Brain, completes the puzzle that constitutes the 'Scientific Dictatorship'.

Literature


As always, the academics have to get onboard with batshit evil and insane ideas such as this - this is where the Military-Industrial Academic Complex rears its ugly head and all these 'geniuses' come up with cosmological explanations for oligarchical trends. Some examples - Samuel Huntington with 'Islamic terrorism' and his 'Clashing of civilizations' - Ray Kurzweil giving us all these utopian conceptions of what transhumanism will bring the world - Alvin Toffler setting the stage for his 'Third Wave' movements and the coming of the 'Information age' and the 'Revolution in Military Affairs'.

Now, we have a new name to add to the list - 'David Brin' and his 'Transparent Society' meme.

EVERYONE IS LIVING IN A FISHBOWL (article from 1998)
Quote :

Ever feel as if you're being watched? You are. Video cameras track you in stores. Electronic eyes are also cropping up in parks and other public places. Credit cards generate records of what you buy, and credit-rating agencies know if payments are late. Web sites record your browsing preferences. Insurance companies store your medical data on computers, which can be hacked. And don't touch that phone. Wiretapping, legal and otherwise, is on the rise.


Many people find this trend alarming, and they should.
In its benign form, privacy abuse simply means a flood of junk mail. But there are also sinister ruses such as ''identity theft,'' in which tech-savvy criminals armed with nothing but your address and Social Security number acquire credit cards, bank loans, and even mortgages in your name.

Powerful digital encryption can bolster privacy--but that, too, is controversial. Law-enforcement agencies have labored to suppress cryptography for the masses, fearing a loss of ability to monitor criminals.

Three new books, taking drastically different approaches, highlight how our right to privacy has been compromised by the onslaught of advanced technology. And with varying degrees of success, all three try to tell us what to do about it. The Transparent Society, by physicist and science-fiction writer David Brin, argues that in a more perfect world, privacy might matter less than we think. Privacy on the Line, by computer scientists Whitfield Diffie and Susan Landau, asserts exactly the opposite: that privacy is critical to our way of life. And Protecting Yourself Online, by Internet activists Robert B. Gelman, Stanton McCandlish, and assorted members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, takes a nuts-and-bolts approach, helping general readers understand privacy-related threats and nuisances so they can take measures against them.

Of the three books, Brin's is the most optimistic and most entertaining. In an exuberant romp across the digital landscape, Brin convinces himself--and almost convinced me--that openness is the antidote to threats against privacy.

The setup for this argument is a parable of two possible high-tech futures. In one, grim citizens of a fascist-sounding state are monitored by Police Central. In the alternative future, there's just as much monitoring. But it goes in both directions--by the police and of the police--without oppression or rancor. Both future societies are crime-free. Which one would you choose?

Brin's thesis, amplified in long, unhurried chapters, is that ''transparency'' and accountability are our best defenses against abuses. Cryptography, beloved by spooks, cyberpunks, and civil libertarians alike, is a useful tool, in Brin's eyes. But in an encryption arms race, the rich and powerful--meaning governments and big business--will always outgun ordinary citizens. In any case, Brin claims, snooping technology will advance more quickly than the tools to thwart it. You can digitally scramble a message. But how will you conceal your keystrokes from minuscule, insect-like, remote sensing devices that fly through your window and fix themselves to the ceiling?

New laws are no solution, Brin argues. Regulations will only create new layers of bureaucracy--and ultimately, such laws are unenforceable. Simplified to an extreme, his argument says that the authorities should be permitted to snoop, if that will help them fight criminal elements. But in return, he writes: ''We should make government come begging deferentially, and extract something in return each time. New kinds of supervision. New guarantees of openness. Snap inspections by teams of randomly chosen citizens.''

See, when you're using cameras in the way that guys like Jason Bermas suggests, you are falling for their controlled paradigm - you are gradually being assimilated all the same in their panopticon - in fact you have resorted to their favorite approach - get you to surveill yourselves through live ISR (that camera is a 'personnel locator').

"Hey, when you've got nothing to hide..." - public intimacy

Know why they started floating that 'meme' as soon as 9/11 happened? They were already acclimatizing people and making them wrap their heads around this 'Transparent Society' that they're hoping to bring into existence.

A large part of this is what they term 'public intimacy'. You know, previously, you had 'private intimacy' - what you did with your spouse was your sole business only, and there was some degree of loyalty and monogamy.

Not anymore. Now, women use T-shirts as billboards for advertising their current sexual readiness and state of mind. They have adapted their 'brains' to the cyberneticist 'sense and respond' feedback loop - they advertise on their billboards that they are 'horny', or are ready for some 'action', and the men respond in kind and pick them up in bars.

This is all part of the acclimatization - of making you submit, of making it seem nothing to be bossed around in airports and having you be stripsearched and body scanned.



From the earlier referenced textscript 'Public Intimacy and the New Face (Book) of Surveillance: The Role of Social Media in Shaping Contemporary Dataveillance'

Self-presentation - How people themselves are being readjusted to the 'panopticon' through social engineering
Quote :

The new individual now lives, works, and shops in transparent interiors of buildings with glass facades (for example, Berlin’s parliament with its transparent dome, Richard Meier apartments in New York). In fact, as Sternberg (2001) notes, the new individual now is occupied in a phantasmagoric workplace and is responsible to create a suitable persona to present her “iconographic capabilities” (p. 11). In other words, the labor of the new individual is a labor of self-presentation.

Even Architecture is in on the agenda - notice indeed all these 'glass domes', where workers have to be perfectly identifiable at all times by anyone and everyone - everyone has the right to 'know' what this or that person is doing - in the name of cutting down 'slacking off time'.

This has also been tried in schools - these glass domes where teachers and other government bureaucrats/wards of the state had to be perfectly visible by everyone inside the school. When teachers complained about it or pasted something on the windows so that they were no longer visible, all of a sudden the architects went into a frenzy and demanded they remove whatever it was they pasted on their windows, because it was interfering with their 'artists' conception' of how the building ought to look like.

So just remember -when you're at work, sitting in one of these new glass domes where you can be perfectly spied upon by other people, notice YOU are being dehumanized and reshaped to fit inside this panopticon society - without the manager even purposefully being aware of it himself.

I will later put up an article for everybody to read that will go into the way Architecture is being combined with Social Networking to instigate a change in mass societal behavior - to get them to wrap their heads around the surveillance state.

Quote :

Strangely enough, this labor of self-presentation, which used to be the domain of celebrities such as movie or rock stars, is now a full-time labor for many individuals, who, for example, wear their emotions on their t-shirts or sweatpants that read Milf in Training, Jerk Magnet, Your Boyfriend Wants Me, or Juicy.





Sense and respond supply chain applied to 'mating' - 'partying' - 'women' - 'objects' - 'dating' - whatever you want to term it - wearing emoticons and 'statements of intent and readiness' on your clothing

Quote :

In the digital realm, live webcam feeds through which individuals broadcast what transpired in their bedroom can be considered as an example to the trickling down of the act of self-presentation. And nowadays, the new individual has Facebooks, MySpaces, YouTube—the proliferated virtual worlds of sociality—where she not only displays but also actualizes intimacies in public.

Transparent Buildings and Architecture - Creating 'Public Intimacy'






From 'The Transparent City'

http://www.boston.com/community/photos/raw/2008/11/the_transparent_city.html

SEE ME
Yours for the Peeping

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/weekinreview/04green.html?_r=1

Quote :

Not only will the building’s glass walls allow W residents to see, and be seen by, passers-by on the street below, but Mr. Fletcher and Ms. Lillo have created peekaboo features within each apartment, like a window between the kitchen and the bedroom, and a bathroom that’s a glass cube, allowing residents to expose themselves to their roommates and family members, too. The idea, Mr. Fletcher said, was to frame and exhibit the intimate details of life, or at least ones that would be aesthetically pleasing, “like your silhouette in the shower.”

“We are creating stages for people to perform on in some way, but it’s a very scripted and considered display,” he said. “Cooking could be a display, for example, with your partner watching you from the bedroom.”

He talked about tuning the privacy of each room, using shades or scrims to have larger or smaller openings, as you would change the aperture of a camera. “So if you don’t want your partner to see you shaving your legs in the shower,” he said, “you can pull the shade.”

Adapting architecture to the panopticon surveillance state -who'd have thought, eh?

I will follow this up with another post that illustrates some other things about this.


Last edited by Deckard on Tue 06 Jul 2010, 12:14 am; edited 4 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Transparent Society: Adapting Society To Dataveillance   Mon 05 Jul 2010, 9:23 pm

More 'Military-Industrial Academic Complex' eulogies on privacy while simultaneously deriding it to bring in the new - brought to you from 'Spook City' - ie. California:

http://www.csus.edu/indiv/m/mayesgr/Scribble/Privacy%20Stuff/Privacy%20in%20a%20Transparent%20Society.pdf

Privacy in a Surveillance/Transparent Society
G. Randolph Mayes

California State University Sacramento
mayesgr@csus.edu
(916) 278-6424


Some quotes from this:

Quote :

The problem with transparency is that it makes all forms of information easier to acquire, including things that are, from a simpler point of view, none of our business. In the past, the practical barriers to collecting such information were generally sufficient to discourage it. But these barriers have eroded alarmingly over the last several decades, and we are now faced with a choice: shore up the barriers or “get over it” (as Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy famously advised) and accept our increased exposure as a fait accompli. ii,iii

Quote :

The increasing availability of information about the activities of private citizens, private businesses, and government agencies is generally a good thing and the burden of proof should always fall on those who believe that it is necessary to restrict access to this kind of information.

This view of transparency is similar to a moderate stance on personal liberty: It is not that personal liberty must never be restricted; rather, it is just that in a liberal society the burden of proof always falls on those who advocate such restrictions[ (My note: So if you're against total erosion of privacy, the 'burden of proof' falls on you - you need to prove why this is such a bad thing after all, or lest you will be deemed 'suspicious'.)

My note: Wow - this is turning the Fourth Amendment on its head right there. Can you recognize the stench of twisted insanity that emanates from all this? I sure can.

Quote :

The right to be let alone

Although privacy was originally characterized as the “right to be let alone,” today it is also commonly defined as the right to control personal information. v,vi These are distinct notions, but they are connected in this obvious way: the attempt to acquire a person’s private information may result in an unwarranted intrusion into her private life. Specifically, we may disturb this individual in our act of acquiring the information we seek, or we may go on to use this information in a way that disturbs her.

Quote :

If there is no right to be let alone (My note: Wow - when did you manage to establish this? Was I or anyone from the general public allowed to sit in on that crucial conversation where this was established?), then we seem to have lost our connection between personal information and the right to privacy. A simple way to preserve this connection is to assert that the right to privacy just is the right to control personal information. (My note: See, privacy no longer means what you think it means - it no longer means 'leave me the hell alone'. Again, bitching and crying about you wanting to retain 'privacy' is playing into their dialectic.)

Quote :

Most people in liberal societies do experience a strong sense of violation when they discover that others have been snooping into their private affairs. This is at least some evidence of a right to control personal information. But this sense of violation is easily explained as above: we fear the harm that may result. In order to justify the claim that there is a right to control personal information, we must have a reason for thinking that we violate the autonomy of another by the simple act of acquiring such information, regardless of possible consequences.

Again, there simply is no such right. There is only one sense in which you might be said to violate my autonomy by the simple act of acquiring personal information against my will, and that is in the very fact that you are acquiring my information against my will. But in the absence of reasons for thinking personal information is special in this regard, such an act no more violates my autonomy than if you were to sing a song, ride a bicycle or bake brownies against my will. Any other alleged violation of autonomy stemming from knowing personal information would have to be the result of either doing or threatening to do something with this information.

My note: This is like when the Wells-esque World Brain - the Global Hive Mind that constitutes a neural network that thinks for the entire world society in Metal Gear Solid 2 tells his subject Raiden: "You exercise your 'right' to freedom, and this is the result. You lack the qualifications to exercise 'free will'. You have done nothing but abuse your freedom. You don't deserve to be free. ". It takes massive conditioning and an academic 'clouding' of the senses to come to appreciate the nonsense that is being perpetuated here.

That game was channeling Skinner's 'Beyond Freedom & Dignity' and David Brin's 'Transparent Society' right there

Watch it again:

Skinner's 'We Can No Longer Afford Freedom' Writ Large in Popular Media - Such As This 2001 Videogame That 'Predictates/Predicts' The Entire Agenda




Quote :

(i) Although there is no general right to be let alone, the claim that there is has great intuitive appeal.

Here is where they rationalize intrusion into people's personal information:

Quote :

8. Implications for the control of personal information

On this way of thinking about privacy the question whether we violate a person’s privacy by obtaining personal information is the question whether we thereby interfere with the exercise of her practical rationality. The answer is that we do not. Just as with the more general notion of the failure to let a person alone, one does not interfere with the practical rationality of another simply by acquiring information about her.

And this stuff goes ON like this for pages on end. I implore you to go read it to get a good sense of the kind of debauchery and illogical mental gymnastics these people are currently crafting to put a good face on a system of overt totalitarian control.

A good argument against the 'Transparent Society

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transparent_society

Quote :

In 2008, security expert Bruce Schneier called the transparent society concept a "myth"[2] (a characterization Brin later rebutted[3]), claiming it ignores wide differences in the relative power of those who access information.[2]

Bingo. Yeah, the 'masses' - the 'herds' are all transparent and have nothing to hide - and the system peers into their private lives with infinite ease - while the elites hold all the servers, hold all the information, and I can ASSURE YOU they will not treat themselves like this.

Anglo-Dutch Liberalism (as seen on the pages of Wired Magazine and other publications pushing the computer/cybernetics utopian worldview) is a sick, demented disease that ascribes a false utopian notion that everybody is in the same boat - NO, EVERYBODY IS NOT - there are class systems, there are elites above elites, and there is racial and class segregation. To think everybody is just going to be innately more 'open' and 'honest' to each other and that everybody will partake in this - well, if you believe that stuff, your mind is no more sophisticated than that of a five year old and can not take in real epistemological worldviews.
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PostSubject: Re: Transparent Society: Adapting Society To Dataveillance   Mon 05 Jul 2010, 10:22 pm

"Bingo. Yeah, the 'masses' - the 'herds' are all transparent and have nothing to hide - and the system peers into their private lives with infinite ease - while the elites hold all the servers, hold all the information, and I can ASSURE YOU they will not treat themselves like this." This is the giveaway in exposing them for who they are.


Wow, thanks for this post Deckard. A fantastic read. Nothing changes with those who propose all of these different measures. Surveillance, Climate Change, and other systems of control. Everyone here knows good and well that the elites will not have all of their daily activities monitored/open for public display just the same as they would not be the ones downsizing their 10 mansions to reduce their carbon footprint. Their plans can be so easly turned on them (social controllers) in debate or examples that they are easily beat. You want an open transparent society, show me by wearing a live video feed all day long in your board meetings, global conferences, home conversations, yada yada yada. They will turn down your offer therby exposing their hypocrisy. What a shell game that average folks fall for. Unfortunately they have created so many sexual deviants that many would love this sytem.
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PostSubject: Re: Transparent Society: Adapting Society To Dataveillance   Mon 05 Jul 2010, 11:28 pm

They released the movie EdTV in March 1999 in order to expose us culturally to the modern version of the 24/7 self-expose society.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0131369/

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PostSubject: Re: Transparent Society: Adapting Society To Dataveillance   Tue 06 Jul 2010, 12:36 am

RE: Transparent Society: Adapting Society to Dataveillance

Thank you for the splendid post. Much food for thought here!

A most emphatic 'Welcome' to the Forum.
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PostSubject: Re: Transparent Society: Adapting Society To Dataveillance   Sat 10 Jul 2010, 6:32 pm

Are these systems the harbingers of a Transparent Society, or are they the makings of a Panopticon Singularity?


Theory of Surveillance: The PANOPTICON
http://cartome.org/panopticon1.htm

The PANOPTICON was proposed as a model prison by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), a Utilitarian philosopher and theorist of British legal reform.

The Panopticon ("all-seeing") functioned as a round-the-clock surveillance machine. Its design ensured that no prisoner could ever see the 'inspector' who conducted surveillance
from the privileged central location within the radial configuration. The prisoner could never know when he was being surveilled -- mental uncertainty that in itself would prove to be a crucial instrument of discipline.


A Participatory Panopticon?
http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/000554.html

What happens when you combine mobile communications, always-on cameras, and commonplace wireless networks? We're going to find out very soon.


Sousveillance
http://wearcam.org/sousveillance.htm

Secrecy, not privacy, may be the true cause of terrorism

Gary Morton once said that "many people feel that the security of Big Brother is another form of terror.''
-- Gary Morton, Dec 08, 01 09:56:40 PM -0500, posted to CitizensontheWeb.com.

It has often been said that the true causes of terrorism are oppression, bad foreign policy, and secrecy, rather than privacy. (In fact some have even gone so far as to say that they've felt more frightened of the soldiers of their own armed forces than of the so-called
"terrorists''.)

Secret organizations often run open-loop, without the normal feedback mechanisms that provide important checks and balances. Feedback is the simple process of observability-controllability like we find in a home thermostat. When the homeland gets too hot, the thermostat provides the checks and balances needed to shut off the furnace.

But the secret burners under the political pressure cookers have no thermostat --- nothing to keep them in a state of equilibrium or balance. Rather than short-cycling on and off regularly, they run for longer and longer but more drastic cycles called ``revolutions'' or other more major forms of unrest, disaster, or carnage.

It is not privacy that is the cause of the problem. It is not the unphotographed, unfingerprinted, unsurveilled citizens who are to blame, but, rather, it is the larger pressure cooking machinery that needs to be questioned.

Blaming terrorism on individual citizens is like blaming the blown up boiler on the first few molecules of steam that escape through the first rupture in the pressure cooker.

Instead of putting each molecule under surveillance to see which are the first to ``step out of line'', we should really be looking at the secret stove that operates without scrutiny.
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PostSubject: Re: Transparent Society: Adapting Society To Dataveillance   Sun 11 Jul 2010, 12:46 pm

This company provides Dataveillance on steroids. See the company's demo videos. This just screams of a DARPA run project (front company).

This is how they'll control a totally chaotic society - all other forms of social control are now obsolete. With this tech, they'll be able to identify and target on any variable they can measure - no one will be able to hide. If they're recruiting the best psychopaths to run a new program, this will allow them to find them. If they want to target people who are awake, they'll be findable.

What's so funny is the kid in the interview tries to make out like he had to approach DC cold. What a joke.
(click on Techcrunch link to see article with images and video of interview)

Quote :
Palantir: The Next Billion-Dollar Company Raises $90 Million
http://techcrunch.com/2010/06/25/palantir-the-next-billion-dollar-company-raises-90-million/

When Alex Karp needed funding for a young start up named Palantir in 2005, dozens of investors said “No.”

He was trying to sell them on the idea of a high-powered analysis platform that could scan multiple databases simultaneously— a tool that government officials and corporations could use to tackle complex problems.

“It was very scary since doing enterprise software [from] 2005 to 2009 was a little bit like starting a circus in the middle of Palo Alto with engineers,” Karp says, “Enterprise is a dirty word and that’s the business we’re in, and government is also not very popular in the Valley, [we combined] both.” [See our interview with Karp above]

Today, funding is not an issue.

Palantir, a team of 250-plus engineers nestled in downtown Palo Alto, has raised $90 million in Series D financing at a $735 million valuation— the company exclusively told TechCrunch. The round was led by co-founder Peter Thiel’s The Founders Fund and included Youniversity Ventures, Glynn Capital, Miriam Rivera’s Ulu Ventures, Jeremy Stoppleman, Ben Ling, and a couple of high-profile NY funds.

Although Palantir did not disclose whether it’s profitable, the company says revenues have at least doubled every year for the last three years. And yet this nearly billion dollar company— yes, that’s billion with a big fat “B”— remains a wallflower in Silicon Valley.

Foursquare, a company founded in 2009, has at least 208 posts on TechCrunch. Palantir, founded in 2004, has one. Unlike the most buzzed about startups in tech, Palantir is not in the social game. It doesn’t dispense daily deals, nor does it accept mobile payments and it certainly does not Tweet.

It is an obtuse, difficult-to-explain product that is mainly used in Washington— the government makes up 70% of its business and the rest is dominated by private financial institutions. That may sound painfully boring but Palantir’s user-friendly analysis program is becoming a major player in the war against terrorism and cyber espionage, stimulus spending accountability (Palantir is literally powering the administration’s efforts to identify fraud in stimulus projects), health care, and even natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Haiti.

This year, the platform famously helped researchers at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto expose a cyber espionage ring called the Shadow Network, which was stealing classified materials from India’s Defense Ministry.

Where there’s a crisis, it’s safe to say that Palantir is probably not far behind.

What is Palantir?

To understand Palantir, it helps to start at the origin.

The company is named after the Palantir stones of Lord Of The Rings, which allowed the characters to connect with other stones and see nearby images. The fundamental point of Palantir is to take reams of data and help non-technical users see critical connections and ultimately, the answers to complex problems. The product is a child of PayPal, born from the start up’s methodology for combating fraud:

“They had this massive problem of essentially cyber fraud…they tried algorithmatic approaches…one of the things about that is it doesn’t work really well because the opponent is highly adaptive…What you need is a human mind that’s adaptive,” Karp says.

That would form the foundation for the Palantir platform, which merges human-based algorithms and a powerful engine that can scan several databases at once on an incredibly fine, granular level. It comes in two flavors: Government and Finance. The basic system, which is designed to look like software from a Hollywood spy thriller, accepts huge databases and allows users to slice the information in seemingly innumerable ways. Unlike PayPal’s model, Palantir is also designed to be highly sensitive to a variety of security needs.

At Palantir’s headquarters, Shreyas Vijaykumar (Forward Deployed Engineer) and Shyam Sankar (Director of Business Development) walked us through one simulation.

We looked at a hypothetical E.Coli outbreak in Detroit, Michigan. We knew the approximate date of the outbreak and the fact that victims purchased meat at two different grocery chain. Using Palantir we were able to identify all the store locations in the area, find the meat distributors, isolate the stores that shared the same distributors and ultimately narrow it down to two distributors where the contamination may have originated. Not exactly fighting terrorists, but a pretty neat 10-minute activity. If it sounds convoluted, you can check out some of their demonstration videos here.

Unlike the many contractors it competes against, Karp emphasizes that the company does not provide a service, it will always be product oriented.

That dogged loyalty to refining the flagship product permeates Palantir’s offices. For example, a software update is released every month— on the Palantir Government side, the engineers name the update by assigning an element from the periodic table and designing a shirt to commemorate the new update (yes, 250-plus t-shirts are printed each month). That spirit is further reinforced by the engineer-centric model— virtually every single employee is an engineer and roughly 27-years-old. Predictably, the office space is punctuated with extra-large bean bag chairs, a small community of dogs, board games, Halo (even conference rooms are named after parts of Halo), a working train set, paintings of Carebears, and even a bubble machine that spews bubbles when someone breaks the build.

Of course, there is a downside to an engineer utopia working feverishly to perfect a platform. If everyone’s an engineer, who sells the product?

The answer is no one.

There is no publicist, no sales or marketing team and Karp adamantly believes that there will never be one. He says he is perfectly content to let word of mouth drive his business, in press and in sales. He knows he could multiply his revenues by building out a sales team, but he think it would ultimately detract from the mission:

“If you are iterating on a product that you want to be important three years from now, it’s better to have engineers figuring out what the core issues are and then iterate against them. If you want to optimize on revenue [for the] next quarter…you want to be heavy on a sales force. We’re long on dealing with the most important problems…and short on what happens in the near term.”

It’s hard to imagine a billion-dollar company without a sales team, but then again Palantir is getting pretty darn close.

_________________
"For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root."
David Thoreau (1817-1862)
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