How Algorithms Shape Our World

I don’t know about you, but I’m suffering from debt ceiling/Eurozone mess fatigue and thought readers might enjoy a wee respite. This engaging presentation by Kevin Slavin provides some useful food for thought about how the use of algorithms are coming to literally reshape our world. Hat tip reader Thomas B:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Foppe

    Just out of curiosity: isn’t there anything else major going on at the moment, or perhaps just new stuff coming out? I mean, the debt ceiling thing is little more than a crisis engineered to a. create an atmosphere in which Obama can contribute to the death of a bunch of elderly and poor people, and b. distract people (from the fact that he wants to kill the poor, sick and elderly). But given how much it dominates pretty much everyone’s mind, it seems like to have great potential to cover up reporting on other issues. Now, Warren was one such issue they tried to hide in this infernal din, but is that the only thing?

  2. Bosh

    Thanks, Yves, for letting me know about TED. Great talk and a great site. I plan to watch or listen to as many as I can.

    “Dancing with the Stars,” move over…. (just kidding)

  3. Teejay

    While I found the TED presentation interesting and informative,to say that algorithms “shape” our world is much too tame, benign and innocuous a description. 70% of the trades on Wall Street are these nano second high frequency trades that do nothing to improve or enhance our society. They’re great at consolidating wealth and thereby political power.

    1. ECON

      Teejay is right on the money! High frequency trading is like a virus that infects the investment sector and the wider economy is collateral damage. Keynes last century assured us that when the market becomes a game then investing is not to facilitate a productive economy but to enhance the wealth of the very few who contribute nothing to the market. Investors must recognize where we have arrived at.

  4. Wyndtunnel

    “The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines,” Leto said. “Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments. Naturally, the machines were destroyed.”[4] – Frank Herbert: “God Emperor of Dune”

  5. Philip Pilkington

    Seems to have got a bit confused there at the end.

    First of all, there is no ‘third element’ between nature and culture. The algorithms are a sort of ‘distilled’ cultural form that we impose upon nature.

    Secondly, (and he contradicts himself here), we don’t think of these algorithms as ‘nature’. Why on earth would we do that? They aren’t inherent in the world. We put them there. We dig the ditches and lay the fiber-optic cable in line with these algorithms. They may be ‘us’ in a very weird sense of the word ‘us’ (unconscious?), but they’re still ‘us’. We write them — even if we don’t understand them.

    Anyway, his philosophy is a little off — and a bit self-contradictory — but it was a very good presentation.

    1. Dan Duncan

      What the hell are you talking about Pilkington?

      “Algorithms aren’t inherent in the world?”


      But for evolution, basic genetics and every naturally occurring fractal, such as leaves, peacock feathers, coral, etc,. etc, etc…

      Well you’d be correct.

      Here, take a look at some of these:

      All algorithmic.

      “The algorithms are a sort of ‘distilled’ cultural form that we impose upon nature.

      God, what nonsense. I know it felt good to write “distilled cultural form that we impose upon nature”…but at some point, you have to consider the lack of content in your words. Don’t you?

      Or is content purely incidental?

      Seriously, the only one “imposing an algorithm” is you…as you hit us with an algorithm known as Pilkington’s Recursive Academic Sentence Generator.

      But hey…I’m sure that the elegant pairings of subjects and predicates can be taxing. Should you ever get “writer’s block”—which would be amusing, given that you’re spewing out recursively random sentences devoid of meaning—please see the following site:

      It’s the Virtual Academic. It too is based off an algorithm, so you’ll just love it! And it’ll definitely come in handy when your comment is in dire need of erudite gravitas…

      And I conclude with this nugget of wisdom for you Phil Pilkington:

      “For the conceptual logic of the implied reader is conducive to the authentication of empiricism”.

      1. Philip Pilkington

        Not the sharpest knife in the drawer are you?

        “But for evolution, basic genetics and every naturally occurring fractal, such as leaves, peacock feathers, coral, etc,. etc, etc…”

        What you call ‘fractals’ are patterns in nature, true. But they are only given ‘form’ and ‘order’ by a human observer.

        Just like two apples are only two apples when someone who can count looks at them. Otherwise they’re just a meaningless conglomeration of sense-data.

        Read Hume or take a class in philosophy or something. Just don’t try to sound smart… because you’re not.

        1. Valissa

          Hey Philip, I’m going to agree with Dan on this one. Just because you and Hume appear to think the same on this, doesn’t mean much… and I rather like how Hume thinks most of the time… but there are always multiple valid points of view in a truly pluralistic world.

          Many mathematicians and physicists believe there is an underlying mathematical order to the universe (they even feel that to be beautiful, so has an aesthetic component), and that would include alogorithms to an extent. Saying this does not imply it is the only underlying order or that it is even causal (though many think so), or that there even is is such a thing as an underlying order. It’s just a theory that many scientists believe. And I don’t have aproblem with that… it makes a kind of sense. We all struggle to understand the nature of the world around us, and all develop different worldviews (or collective myths) to explain that. It would be nice to see more tolerance in this area.

          1. Philip Pilkington

            Dan Duncan doesn’t deserve to have his viewpoint considered because he’s a troll. That’s why I’m so curt with him.

            You say:

            “Many mathematicians and physicists believe there is an underlying mathematical order to the universe (they even feel that to be beautiful, so has an aesthetic component), and that would include alogorithms to an extent.”


            “It’s just a theory that many scientists believe.”

            Well, no offense, but evangelicals believe in creationism and scientologists believe in all sorts of wacky shit. These are just theories too. They’re based on belief or ‘faith’ too.

            Assuming that there is mathematical order inherent in the universe is the same thing, rationally speaking. Personally I don’t have a problem if people want to think in these (metaphysical) terms. Privately, I’m even sympathetic. But as far as rationalism goes, the writing is on the wall. When I hear the words ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ I reach for my gun.

            Kant is very good on this. He was a devout Christian. But he always avoided metaphysical arguments when he was expounding his philosophy of ‘pure reason’. I think he saw the difference between private beliefs and shared (public) rational facts.

          2. Valissa

            Philip I think you missed my main points… tolerance and pluralism. We all have different worldviews and who are you to be the arbiter of which is the correct one? Is there even a correct one if one is a pluralist? Looks like you are a monist and not a pluralist. You’re acting very “elite” on this issue, btw.

            But you guys go ahead and enjoy your pissing match, and I’ll just chuckle about male intellectual ego from the sidelines ;)

          3. Philip Pilkington

            Actually, no, I think you’re missing the key point. People believe some weird shit when you really get down to it and I don’t want people polluting society with these beliefs. They can keep them to themselves, but they cannot be allowed to affect public debate — be that scientific or political.

            Take creationism. Am I saying that people aren’t allowed believe in this? No. Am I saying that they cannot bring this silly notion into schools? Yes.

            See the difference? I don’t care what people believe in private, but frankly, I don’t want to hear it in public/scientific debates.

            Is there an inherent order in the universe? I don’t know. Neither do you. However, I can certainly present you with neurological patients who cannot count anymore — which certainly seems to indicate that mathematics is ‘all in our heads’. Frankly, I think that has more pull from a rational perspective.

            Pluralism is fine — when people keep their beliefs to themselves. Otherwise its just anarchy. Imagine a truly ‘pluralistic’ school, which taught evolution, creationism, scientology beliefs, tribal beliefs about society coming from ‘the Great Monkey’, native American beliefs about society coming from ‘the Eagle’. Where does it end?

            There has to be aspects of people’s personality that they can keep to themselves and not try and impose on others. Thus, public/scientific debate should only be rational. Otherwise you’re on the road to tyranny.

        2. Mufasa

          Why is DNA transcription any less algorithmic than the execution of an instruction set by a CPU. An algorithm is a finite list of well-defined instructions for the computation of a function. Obviously DNA transcription doesn’t work perfectly, so you could argue that the instruction set isn’t necessarily well-defined, but nor do logic gates, electronic storage media, or human neurons. If you are going to be so exacting an algorithm can only ever exist conceptually. Maybe you think that DNA transcription doesn’t count because it’s not a conscious attempt to calculate something. I guess you could say that DNA transcription does not compute a function because nobody defined the function that it performs. However, it does do something that can be described as a function.

          The description of anything requires a consciousness, so it’s true that a fractal isn’t a fractal without an observer, but does it mean nothing that such a description of that object is possible? Things with a fractal character have a lower Kolmogorov complexity than those with a random character. One only needs to describe the rule for generating the object, which can require far less information than a granular representation. Things in nature are of course never true fractals that exhibit self-similarity at every scale, but that doesn’t seem to be your issue. Objects don’t have to exhibit fractal character but many things in nature do, and they could be described algorithmically to a greater tolerance than, say, using an image with the same amount of information. Is that not an intrinsic feature of reality? They may independently be ‘meaningless agglomerations of sense-data’, but things that have fractal character are agglomerations that can be given meaning using an algorithm more accurately than a granular description.

          I do think that the idea of math as a tautological set of statements completely divorced from physical reality makes sense, but there’s no reason to believe that the neurons representing this idea are doing so by anything other than natural processes. If all logical statements have to be represented on a physical substrate, how is it possible to say that logic isn’t inherent in nature? The qualia of logical truth would then be a byproduct of neuronal computations that have survival value.

      2. Philip Pilkington

        And by the way, as a general rule when you think that people are ‘generating meaningless sentences’ it usually simply means that you don’t understand them.

        The error is probably on your behalf. The more people you encounter that you think ‘generate random meaningless sentences’ then chances are, the stupider or uneducated you actually are.

        This is a good way to objectively measure your competence. Although, as certain psychological experiments have shown, people with low-levels of competence generally lack a strong self-critical faculty and generally blame their incompetence on others, so this lesson might be lost on you… if you were even able to read this series of sentences, that is…

    2. Larry Headlund

      You might be interested in the more or less popular book Incompleteness by Rebecca Goldstein. It includes an explanation of how algorithms (and all mathematics) can be consider distinct from nature and culture. This is a controversial stance but it may be one that the lecturer embraces.

      1. Philip Pilkington

        Its actually a very old idea. I wasn’t aware that it had been rehashed. To me its always been pure mysticism. A sort of Platonism where we think ‘perfect forms’ exist behind things.

        I think Hume etc. really stuck a knife in the idea and Russell gave the knife a twist.

        As I said in the example above: there’s two apples, but only in the presence of someone who can count. If you put them in front of a cat or a horse or even someone with serious brain damage whose ability to count has been affected (or a child who cannot count), there are no longer two apples; just a patch of sense data.

        To me, that means that numbers and mathematics come out of man’s mind; not from some mystical beyond. They are a very primal element in all thinking and culture, but they are an element in thinking and culture.

        1. wb

          Very interesting remarks, Mr Pilkington.

          Does the issue boil down to whether mathematics / numbers are invented or discovered ? i.e. are the numbers ‘out there’, or ‘in our heads’ ?

          I don’t know, but surely, if someone works out the maths and it points to something weird, like Black Holes, and then they look through telescopes and actually find Black Holes, maybe that suggests that there is an inherent order, that can be discovered via numbers.

          Second point, I suggest that your suggestion that ‘rationality’ be privileged over other ‘beliefs’ is untenable. Irrational intuition cannot be so easily dismissed. Also, even if you are correct, how are you, an a practical sense, going to eradicate all the competing beliefs that you don’t approve of and drive them out of the public domain ? Isn’t that reminiscent of Pol Pot and similar ‘believers’ ?

          Personally, I think it’s a left brain/right brain thing

          1. Philip Pilkington

            “Does the issue boil down to whether mathematics / numbers are invented or discovered ? i.e. are the numbers ‘out there’, or ‘in our heads’ ?”

            I think the car-crash victim example really proves this beyond doubt. Man gets in car-crash. Suffers brain damage and can no longer do simple addition and subtraction.

            Where’s the maths gone? Eh?

            “I don’t know, but surely, if someone works out the maths and it points to something weird, like Black Holes, and then they look through telescopes and actually find Black Holes, maybe that suggests that there is an inherent order, that can be discovered via numbers.”

            I don’t think that proves something. Take this example:

            A sick child never goes outside but learns to speak. I teach him what a tree is (“It’s tall and brown; shaped like an umbrella at the top with green leaves”). The child gets better and walks outside the door. Then he points at a tree and says… “a tree”?

            Is this really so amazing? I don’t think so. Same thing with the black hole. Mathematics is a powerful deductive mechanism, but it colours how we view the world — not vice versa.

            “Also, even if you are correct, how are you, an a practical sense, going to eradicate all the competing beliefs that you don’t approve of and drive them out of the public domain ? Isn’t that reminiscent of Pol Pot and similar ‘believers’ ?”

            This is already in place. Go on, send in your thoughts about the Universe and God into a physics magazine; or your ‘theories’ of creationism into a biology journal. See if they get published.

            Scientists and policymakers can tell the difference between rationality and metaphysics — and they generally ignore the latter.

            Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge tried to impose a metaphysical vision on the world. They thought they knew the ‘laws of history’ and tried to actualise this in politics. They BELIEVED in certain tenets of Marxism and they put them into practice.

            One could just as easily imagine a Pol Pot armed with a crazy ‘knowledge’ of a perfect order underlying the universe that had to be realised politically. Its metaphysics that leads to tyranny; not rationality.

          2. Philip Pilkington

            By the way, just before people think my ‘sick boy’ example is very clever and original, its not actually that original at all (although I hope its clever). Its actually a reiteration on Plato’s Meno dialogues:


            In Meno, Socrates ‘feeds’ the uneducated knowledge of mathematics through asking the correct questions. In my example, the boy is similarly ‘prepped’ for his encounter with the tall brown thing with leaves that is sort of shaped like an umbrella.

          3. wb

            Thanks for the reply, Philip.

            Okay, I accept that, ‘it’s all in our heads’, in the sense that, although there is a ‘something’ out there, for that ‘something’ to be knowable, describable, measurable, we have to match the sense data up to a mental model ( which is culturally constructed, i.e. taught to us by soceity ).

            I’m very doubtful of the self-proclaimed superiority of the dominant Western ‘modern’ mental model, but that’s maybe a value judgement.

            Anyway, let me take another crack at your ‘rationality’, as illustrated in the TED talk.

            Rationality will declare that nothing can be in two places at once, right ? Some sort of fundamental truthiness, common sense, I can hear philosophers down through the ages declaring that logic insists that locality is invariably the case.

            But now we have the child of rationality, reason, science, physics, DEMONSTRATING that indeed something can be in two places at the same time…

            So maybe our a priori faith in reason and rationality requires reassessment ?

          4. Philip Pilkington

            Think you got it the wrong way around. People once BELIEVED that something could be in two places at the same time — just as some people BELIEVE that there is order in the universe or whatever — but science has proved this not to be the case.

            Irrationality is based on belief and not proof. It usually centers around unverifiable assertions (or counterfactual ones). These are usually metaphysical. So, I say the universe is ordered and you say that it isn’t. Who is right? I dunno. And I’ll never know. So, its a stupid, irrational discussion and not one to have in public. Its a private thing; like our taste in food or our sexual proclivities or whatever (we don’t argue over these, do we?).

            (Actually, that’s a little unfair because no one could prove the old philosophers wrong given their technology etc. So they were actually correct in their own time periods. But the key point still stands. If they said today that something cannot be in two places at the same time, then they’re just being unreasonable.

          5. Philip Pilkington

            By the way, I wouldn’t be too hard on the old philosophers. Some of them looked at the world in a pretty damn wacky way. Parmenides claimed that movement was impossible and so all movement is an illusion:


            “[Parmenides] argued that movement was impossible because it requires moving into “the void”, and Parmenides identified “the void” with nothing, and therefore (by definition) it does not exist. That which does exist is The Parmenidean One, which is timeless, uniform, and unchanging.”

            Of course, for me this would be an irrational belief. This is a good example of metaphysics. Now, if Parmenides (or a quantum physicist after him) could actually prove that movement doesn’t take place, well then its no longer metaphysics.

          6. wb

            Yes, thanks, that Meno’s Slave bit is cool..

            “…that we shall be better, braver, and more active men if we believe it right to look for what we don’t know…”

            Reminds me, if a person seeks Enlightenment, but doesn’t know what Enlightenment is, how then would they recognize an Enlightened Master ?

    3. nonclassical

      ..math is “perfect” because it’s not real..mental abstraction..though can be applied, even to “control”..

  6. Middle Seaman

    And we all thought that oligarchs are doing it; it turns out it’s algorithms. Did the Supreme Court give algorithms all the rights of private companies already?

  7. old truths

    not every algorithm needs nanoseconds speed.

    this is just a geek fantasy.

    brain matters more.

  8. john bougearel

    Good stuff on deficit and algos today Yves.

    Funny thing bout algos, Wall St. keeps pushing out the frontier of speed and efficiency “where no man has gone before” so to speak, however, all that algo huffing and puffing is not the only way to skin a cat and manage risk in the financial markets.

    Risk can still be managed quite effectively in the old-fashioned ways ~ without any of that speed and efficiency. Consider the “terraforms” or mountain ranges created by the artist’s algos. The form itself leaves behind a “natural” terrain for us to hike and climb and navigate….and navigate, hike and climb quite successfully.

    We must recall, that all those peaks and valleys in the Dow Jones charts over the past 100 + years were carved out long before algos came along. That is to say, it is only the mechanism/instrument carving out those “terraforms” of nature that has changed.

    The evolution of nature’s terraforms have not been fundamentally altered by these algos, just sped up a bit, like via the flux capacitor in Back to the Future, say.

    1. nonclassical

      ..we need to understand the real motive-to give those able to monopolize markets abilities others do not have..advantage..

  9. Ransome

    I have done some work with algorithms (non-financial). They are responsive and predictive because they keep a database from which they “learn”. You can easily change the behavior of the human providing the input by modifying the response provided by the algorithm. You could move markets with asymmetric responses. Since it is two or more algorithms involved in a dialogue, the one speaking first controls the conversation. They call this liquidity but it is not bell-shaped.

    You have two algorithms programed to work in their self-interest created by people that think differently. You get an electronic form of AIG acquiring CDS or risk mis-management by programs used by F&F. Or in the movie one side is developing a form that will disperse radar pluses for stealth, while the other side no longer relies on radar at all.

    The most obvious problem is that humans do the coding and frequently apply patches for “bad behavior” that comes up as your black swan. Those patches may correct the conditions that produced the swan but don’t fix the underlying issue or the incorrect assumption embedded in code. Patches frequently introduce new problems and new black swans. Change control becomes time and resource demanding, often the original development team has been disbanded. Frequently the users have not a clue what is under the hood.

    Remember the guy that stole the market moving code from Goldman? He only had a framework, the code useless, because you can reverse engineer the code but not the thinking that created the arrays producing the output.

    In real life operation, a black swan may occur but is not reproducible so the error is conveyed to the programmer who then must convert what you try to communicate into a corrective action. It is impossible to test all operating conditions so you test to a narrow spec. that never tests the underlying assumptions, only internal code interaction. Taleb is aware of these problems and is therefore pessimistic.

    Good time to watch All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, a three part series. It is good at capturing the expectations and problems, especially when underlying assumptions are faulty or used destructively. There is a good scene where a scientist discovers altruism and goes to live among those that have specifically lost their altruistic conscience. He becomes disappointed.

    1. Philip Pilkington

      On All Watched Over…

      I came across this great interview with Curtis the other day:

      Jarvis Cocker is a twat though. Ironically, he’s the perfect example of what Curtis calls in the interview the ‘new conservatism’, the type of conservatism that thinks itself radical and wears skinny jeans.

    1. attempter

      Rendition for torture means you haven’t broken domestic or international law, or committed any crime against humanity.

      At least Obama plans to count on that being true if somehow he ever is in the dock at a second Nuremburg tribunal.

      Won’t work, though.

  10. LJR

    Typical TED fluff talk. He has a great voice though. Now let’s fit him up with a brain.

    Grandma Moses does Wall Street.

    1. novo

      Actually, it is a bad example of the TED genre. I thought that it didn’t have enough glib to justify irritation.

      Judging by the comments here, it does.

      For a better overview of HFT and the like: Yeah, no flashing graphics, and it might take more than 3 slides to make a point but it’s definitely closer to reality.

      Some of the TEDs are actually interesting and thought provoking, others are just all hype and buzz. A quick glance at the CV, you can usually avoid these (up & coming 2.0 web-personas are typical glib producers – and that’s an algorithm for you).

    1. Susan the other

      I second that thought. After all what goes around comes around. When money became hyper-time there suddenly wasn’t enough of it (money) to go around. And altho there were algorithms for speed there were none for equitable distribution. No one could reconcile hyper speed with plodding currency. Also known as actual transactions. So sometime in the first decade of the 21st century vast amounts of fiat money were printed up to satisfy new-time requirements. Cool.

  11. Birch

    Pragmatic Chaos. What a concept.

    I’m all about algalrhythms myself. If competition is so great, then how do you explain a lichen? Two life forms from differnet kingdoms living symbiotically.

    We need to do away with the competition indoctrination, as cooperation is way more useful; re-instate greed as a deadly sin, and trash the profit motive. I really don’t get the profit thing anyway. Money’s pretty low on the list of good things in life.

    1. nonclassical

      “Money’s pretty low on the..”

      must see “The Magic Christian”..Peter Seller-Ringo Starr..

  12. sadness

    seemed to be all about a revolving circle making me dizzy – what ever happened to life

  13. Terry Mock

    Can a Universal Geometrical Algorithm Help Build a Sustainable Civilization?

    The SLDI Code™ fractal symbol represents a geometrical algorithm which balances and integrates the triple-bottom-line needs of people, planet and profit into a holistic, fractal matrix that becomes increasingly detailed, guiding effective decisions for sustainable results. It was originally developed to enable sustainable
    land development throughout the planning, financing, design, regulating, construction and maintenance processes while always enabling project context to drive specific decisions.

    The information contained herein has been derived from extensive research of preexisting theories on sustainable
    development as well as the direct vetting and feedback from numerous sustainable development and other specific subject
    matter experts. As individual thought leaders reflect on this information, adopt it, and share the work with others, it may adapt as specific circumstances dictate and our knowledge of the world evolves.

    The principles embedded in the SLDI Code sustainable development matrix are universal in their application and need not be confined to land development projects. In the Pass-It-Forward spirit, the SLDI Code fractal symbol and the SLDI Code Sustainable Development Matrix diagram have also been gifted on behalf of the sustainable land development industry to be used by anyone on any effort in which triple-bottom-line sustainable results are desired.

    The Fractal Frontier
    Sustainable Development Trilogy

    Sustainable Land Development Initiative

  14. Tertium Squid


    Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
    by Wendell Berry

    Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
    vacation with pay. Want more
    of everything ready-made. Be afraid
    to know your neighbors and to die.
    And you will have a window in your head.
    Not even your future will be a mystery
    any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
    and shut away in a little drawer.
    When they want you to buy something
    they will call you. When they want you
    to die for profit they will let you know.

    So, friends, every day do something
    that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
    Love the world. Work for nothing.
    Take all that you have and be poor.
    Love someone who does not deserve it.
    Denounce the government and embrace
    the flag. Hope to live in that free
    republic for which it stands.
    Give your approval to all you cannot
    understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
    has not encountered he has not destroyed.

  15. craazyman

    pretty funny stuff.

    Pigeons use the same algorithms when they waddle up to a dude on a park bench eating french fries.

    I saw the Boston Shuffler once on Cape Cod. He was a Seagull and I was doing a barbeque. he had some competition, but they couldn’t locate the way he could.

    Who makes this stuff up? I don’t think it’s an algorithm. ha ha ha ha. Or a light cone. Or anything that we can even name.
    back to the Chote du Rhone.

  16. Thorstein

    Kevin Slavin is full of sh-t.

    His riffs in general and those on the Flash Crash in particular are not only useless but offensive. He says, 5 minutes into his rap (my transcription):

    “And what could go wrong . . . right? What could go wrong is that: A year ago nine percent of the entire market just disappears in five minutes—and they call it the Flash Crash of 2:45. All of a sudden, nine percent just goes away—and nobody—to this day—can even agree on what happened.”

    What? Slavin would have his audience believe that “nobody—to this day—can even agree on what happened” on May 6, 2010?

    His pronouncement is depressingly similar to the chorus of voices declaiming that we cannot know, understand or agree upon the causes of the financial crisis.

    Listen up people. Days after the Flash Crash occurred Reuters published two brief, accurate accounts of what transpired:

    Four months later the SEC confirmed what many in the HFT community already knew. Michael Avery, a portfolio manager at Waddell & Reed, triggered the Flash Crash when he sold 75,000 e-minis in a span of 20 minutes. Twelve months earlier he had executed a similarly-sized trade over a period of 5 hours. On May 6, Avery mistakenly believed he could sell the same quantity, equal to ~ $4.1 billion notional, into a weak market without deleterious effect, in a few minutes. THAT sell order caused the Flash Crash.

    (See paragraphs 4 and 5, page 17, of the SEC’s “Findings Regarding The Market Events of May 6, 2010”.)

    HFT market-makers I’ve spoken with estimate that Avery’s trade cost his fund’s shareholders around $1.5 – $2 million, since his selling had the effect of substantially widening the cash-futures basis, which is very unwise.

    Slavin appears to be unfamiliar with the SEC’s reports and/or the blogosphere gossip surrounding May 6. His demeanor suggests that his interests lie elsewhere altogether, closer to that of other televangelists—Malcolm Gladwell, Anthony Robbins, Dr. Phil, Eckart Tolle, etc.

    The American pragmatist C.S. Peirce famously complained that there were still “philosophical slop-shops on every corner.” Slavin’s found his with audiences at TED & at Naked Capitalism.

    Additional reading:

  17. Puzzled

    Philip Pilkington – You write “Thus, public/scientific debate should only be rational.” What qualifies as rational? Where are the boundaries? Are these boundaries where they are just because Philip Pilkington says so? Please explain.

Comments are closed.