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Palantir CEO Alex Karp on the difference between fighting with Peter Thiel and progressives

Key Points
  • Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir, whose clients largely include the public sector and governments, said at the Aspen Ideas Festival that he has always spoken out on topics he has expertise in.
  • The call for companies and executives to speak out out on societal issues has perhaps never been higher in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
  • Karp said his 30-year relationship with Peter Thiel, including many fights, has helped him to navigate business and political differences.

In this article

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Palantir's Alex Karp on the intersection of big tech and politics
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Palantir's Alex Karp on the intersection of big tech and politics

As U.S. companies and executives balance publicly addressing hot-button political topics, Palantir CEO Alex Karp said many still struggle with figuring out when they must speak out and when they shouldn't.

"Companies have a problem that it's very hard for them to tether what they're producing to a higher mission, and therefore they cannot exactly adjudicate where they have to speak out and where maybe they don't have to speak out," Karp told CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week. "Then there's just general issues of, if you're going to use our product for things we don't support, we feel like we have to speak out."

The call for companies to take a stand on social issues has only increased in recent years, most recently around abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last week.

Karp, who noted he is pro-choice, said that Palantir has always" provided for people to leave states or go to places where their rights are protected, and we pay for people and their families to move if they need access to medical treatment or abortions."

Karp also addressed how differing views have played out in his own company with Palantir co-founder Peter Thiel, one of the largest donors to Republican candidates in recent years. Thiel was also on the executive committee of the transition team for President Donald Trump, who Karp has both publicly and privately criticized.

"One of the problems in this country is that there are not enough people like Peter and me; we've been fighting about things for 30 years," Karp said. "You have to take the political dialogue, and then the business dialogue we tend to have similar assumptions but not always the same interpretation. … I really enjoy my discourse with Peter on areas where I think he's the best in the world, and we don't agree politically."

Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir arrives ahead of a "Tech For Good" meetup at Hotel Marigny in Paris on May 15, 2019, held to discuss good conduct for technology giants.
Bertrand Guay | AFP | Getty Images

Karp acknowledged that while he "got in trouble" for some of the things he said about Trump publicly, it was also insights gained from speaking with people like Thiel that made him believe Trump was going to win in 2016.

"I think that's a huge problem in our society; I'd like to hear what someone else thinks, and by the way I kind of think I'm right so if you have your argument we can argue about it," he said. "I think a lot of my progressive friends have a little bit of an inferiority complex – if you're right, why do you care that you're having a dialogue with someone that's wrong? I like that."

"I have pretty strong opinions; prove me wrong, I'd love to hear it," he said.

As companies come under fire from politicians for sharing views they don't agree with, such as in the case of Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a company like Palantir that has much of its business with the public sector and governments could potentially face similar blowback.

While holding government contracts has not stopped SpaceX CEO Elon Musk from being critical of a standing president, Karp said that part of the issue has stemmed from companies who speak out on issues that aren't in their general focus.

"We have all these people that tell me I shouldn't speak publicly on lots of issues, and I speak pretty freely on all sorts of things that could get me into trouble and I think our clients are very tolerant of that," Karp said. "But they also know that I'm in the business … the most important issues of the time right now are issues I have some modicum of expertise."

Karp said those issues are: "What will the world look like if our adversaries win, or if we win? Under what conditions will software be implemented? Will that software rob us of our civil liberties? How can that software protect our civil liberties?"

"On those issues, I speak out all the time," he said.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal News Group is the media partner of the Aspen Ideas Festival.