Boss of major US AI firm slaps down BBC cynicism and salutes UK as a ‘bastion of top talent’ after choosing it for a new European headquarters
- Palantir chief executive Alex Karp clashed with BBC presenter Nick Robinson
- US-based tech company works with intelligence agencies, militaries and NHS
The boss of a major US artificial intelligence firm yesterday hailed the UK as a ‘bastion’ of top talent after choosing it for a new European headquarters.
Palantir chief executive Alex Karp also rejected a suggestion by BBC presenter Nick Robinson that Britain was insignificant in the global AI race, saying it was uniquely placed to help improve the technology and ensure it was not used for nefarious purposes.
US-based Palantir, which specialises in analysing large sets of data and works with intelligence agencies, militaries and more recently the NHS, has decided to make the UK its European base for AI development.
It came as Rishi Sunak unveiled plans for Britain to host a major summit on the risks posed by the development of AI as he pushes for London to be the base of a new global regulator for the industry.
He said: ‘You would be hard-pressed to find many other countries other than the US in the Western world with more expertise and talent in AI. We are the natural place to lead the conversation.’
Palantir chief executive Alex Karp (pictured) hailed the UK as a ‘bastion’ of top talent after choosing it for a new European headquarters
He also rejected a suggestion by BBC presenter Nick Robinson that Britain was insignificant in the global AI race
How he answered Radio 4 Host
Today Programme’s Nick Robinson:
‘You’ve said the UK’s got an important role. There are some who say: “Well look, the UK is a tiddler in this great global race.”
‘The United States matters, the EU matters, China matters. What can the UK achieve when it’s up against those huge trading blocs?’
Palantir Chief Executive Alex Karp:
‘The UK is a bastion in the world for attracting talent. The educational institutions are some of the best in the world.
‘Also the UK has a pragmatic understanding of data protection, meaning it is serious but you can work within the context of what [AI-powered] large language models do. It’s going to be much harder for the Continent to come to terms with large language models. The culture of privacy in the UK is built around norms of fairness and understanding and less around GDPR data protection.
‘If you’re a pharmaceutical company and want to research a medicine you’re going to be able to do things in the UK you couldn’t do easily in the Continent.
‘You’re going to have talent that is the best in the world, and you have a pragmatism about technology, and you have a very special relationship with the most important country in the world on AI, the States.’
The sentiments were echoed by Mr Karp, who said: ‘It is really important for the UK to take the lead because it has a unique role as a recognised country with rule of law, transparency and a pragmatic but serious attitude toward data protection.’
Mr Karp dismissed a suggestion by Mr Robinson in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the UK was a ‘tiddler’ in the global race to develop AI.
He said: ‘The UK is a bastion in the world for attracting talent. The educational institutions are some of the best in the world.
‘The UK, as opposed to many places in the world, has a pragmatic understanding of data protection, meaning data protection is serious but you can actually work within the context of what [AI-powered] large language models do.
‘It’s going to be much harder for the continent of Europe to actually come to terms with large language models…
‘If you’re a pharmaceutical company and you want to do research on a medicine you’re going to be able to do things in the UK that you would not be able to do easily in the Continent.’
The US boss said Britain’s approach would make it easier for companies to work with technology such as large language models, which use AI to respond to requests and questions by generating text in a human-like fashion. Examples of this include ChatGPT.
Mr Karp’s comments came after he met Mr Sunak at a baseball game on Wednesday between the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Founded in 2003 and headquartered in Denver, Colorado, Palantir Technologies is one of the world’s biggest data firms, with a value of £25billion, roughly the same size as banking giant Barclays.
It is backed by billionaire venture capitalist and former Donald Trump adviser Peter Thiel, who is the company’s second-largest investor and helped co-found the firm alongside Mr Karp and several others. But Palantir has repeatedly courted controversy with its technology, with some having described it as the ‘scariest’ of the US tech giants.
The company got its start working with American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan but has since been used by the CIA and other security agencies and police forces across the world. Its rise has drawn concerns from privacy campaigners, who say the firm’s analysis tools enable intrusive government and corporate surveillance.
A 2020 report from human rights group Amnesty International said the company had a responsibility to ensure it was not used to abuse human rights. Earlier this year, patient advocacy groups raised the alarm after hundreds of NHS hospitals were ordered to share confidential medical records with Palantir.
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