Aug. 23, 2013
“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
The news this morning on my little bedside radio was of the computer glitch that had the NASDAQ shutdown for a number of hours yesterday. Trading ground to a halt after it was discovered that the SIP, or Securities Information Processor, was not disseminating price quotations. This processor it seems disseminates price information on the nanosecond interval in order to facilitate automated trading that is transacted at nearly the same speed. Without SIP the fact that the price of a stock changes, maybe changes many times, as the words ‘bought’ and ‘sold’ pass through a human mind becomes problematic, insoluble. SIP makes it alright, so we’re told anyway and yesterday’s problem was a mere “connectivity issue” —all fixed now.
I shudder at the thought, and several thousand trades are traded.
It’s not that this brilliantly accomplished trading technology, that seems to have conquered the fourth dimension of time itself, had this problem —it’s not that which sends a cold wave running down my spine. It’s the fact that so much supposed industry goes into automating trade to the point where it is no longer a basically human transaction. Much is made of the fact Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft didn’t trade for 3 hours and 11 minutes yesterday. The problem was apparently fixed in about twenty minutes, the rest of the time involved everybody synchronizing their watches. The President was briefed, the SEC will investigate. Jack Lew advised we should all remain calm. Stephen Massocca of Wedbush Equity Management offered this as philosophical perspective: “As we continue to eliminate human beings from the execution of security trading, these events are going to take place…”
Me, I see a problem with eliminating human beings from trading. What it seems could be eliminated along with them are certain ‘human being’ things like deliberation and judgement, even moral concern and social responsibility. Price and value are supposed to involve… well, values. Economy is a human enterprise. When its engines become so tuned and mechanized as to refuse the time for human discerning it seems to me what we might have on our hands is a dangerous machine.