Physically ingrained practices and routines are a subtle yet decisive precondition for perceiving, coherently grasping, and adequately responding to the more-than-human dynamics of a global environment in transition.
borders are about drawing lines; they are complex organizational ecologies built on inbuilt and intentional forces.
For this dossier, we will explore the many direct and indirect technological means used to enforce rigid border structures.
This dossier looks at how these local particularities and relations resonate as écho-mondes that reflect back local dynamics, modulating technological usage in such a manner that the technologies themselves are irreversibly transformed
What is the fundamental idea behind the concept of the technosphere within its original context as an emergent component of the Earth system? What does it mean when technics create a system potent enough to intervene in and rival other geospheres?
infrastructure is both the epistemic and physical skeleton upon which the technosphere grows and proliferates. It provides the reasons behind how things are organized and makes such an organization possible in some sort of fixed capacity
The Phosphorus Apparatus tells the story of that circulation ‒ by tracing a network of technical, earthly, and cultural mediations by following the dramaturgies of modern civilization through past, present, and future.
Risk equipment is the way in which we plan for contingency. From financial tools to scenario modeling to concrete landscaping, the planning apparatuses explored in this dossier attempt to stabilize the unstable through projecting information in anticipation of possible hazards
How is the technosphere not only inscribed into the surface of the Earth but also in individuals, and how does it determine and shape the behavior of collectives? What kinds of injuries and frictions result from the engineering of our environments – and ourselves – along a complex machinery of instruments, techniques, and simulations?
Babak Afrassiabi is an artist who works both in Iran and the Netherlands. Since 2004, he has collaborated with Nasrin Tabatabai on various joint projects and the publication of the bilingual magazine Pages (Farsi and English). Their work seeks to articulate the undecidable space between art and its historical conditions, including the recurring question of the place of the archive in defining the juncture between politics, history, and the practice of art. The artists’ work has been presented internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and they have been tutors at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2008–13), and Erg, école supérieure des arts, Brussels (2015–).
Dr. S. Ayesha Hameed is a Lecturer in Visual Cultures and the Joint Programme Leader in Fine Art and History of Art Research Fellow in Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, London. She received her PhD in Social and Political Thought at York University, Canada in 2008
On Barak is a social and cultural historian of science and technology in non-Western settings. He has been a senior lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University since 2012. Prior to this, he was a member of the Princeton Society of Fellows. In 2009, Barak received a joint PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies from New York University. His most recent book is On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (University of California Press, 2013), and his current publication project, Coalonialism: Energy and Empire before the Age of Oil, is funded by a European Union Marie Curie Award and an Israel Science Foundation Grant.
Anil Bawa-Cavia is a computer scientist with a background in machine learning. He runs STDIO, a speculative software studio. His practice engages with algorithms, protocols, encodings, and other software artifacts and his doctoral research at the Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London was on complex networks in urbanism. He is a founding member of Call & Response, a sonic arts collective and gallery space in London, and a member of the New Centre for Research & Practice.
Axel Braun studied photography at the Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, and fine arts at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris. His artistic research deals with controversial infrastructure projects, tautology as an attempt to understand reality, and failed utopias in art and architecture. Currently, he is pursuing the long-term project Towards an Understanding of Anthropocene Landscapes. Recently exhibited works include Some Kind of Opposition (2016) at Galeria Centralis, Budapest, and Dragonflies drift downstream on a river (2015) at Kunstmuseum Bochum.
Dr. Ele Carpenter is a senior lecturer in curating at Goldsmiths, London. Her curatorial practice responds to interdisciplinary socio-political contexts such as the nuclear economy and the relationship between craft and code.
Andrew Chubb is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia conducting research on the relationship between Chinese public opinion and government policy in the South China Sea. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Contemporary China, Pacific Affairs, East Asia Forum, and Information, Communication & Society. His blog, South Sea Conversations (southseaconversations.wordpress.com), provides translations and analysis of Chinese discourse on the South and East China Sea issues.
Louis Chude-Sokei is a writer and scholar currently teaching in the English Department at the University of Washington, Seattle. His academic interests range from West African, Caribbean, and American literary and cultural studies to a particular focus on sound, technology, and performance. His literary and public work focuses on immigration and black-on-black cultural contacts, conflicts, and exchanges. Chude-Sokei is the author of the award-winning book The Last “Darky”: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (2006) and The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics (2016).
Claire Colebrook is a professor of English at Penn State University. Her areas of specialization are contemporary literature, visual culture, and theory and cultural studies. She has written articles on poetry, literary theory, queer theory, and contemporary culture. Colebrook is the co-editor of the series Critical Climate Change, published by Open Humanities Press, and a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Critical Climate Change. She recently completed two books on extinction for Open Humanities Press, Death of the PostHuman and Sex after Life (both 2014), and with Tom Cohen and J. Hillis Miller co-authored Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols (2016).
Seth Denizen is a researcher and design practitioner trained in landscape architecture and evolutionary biology. Since completing research on the sexual behavior and evolutionary ecology of small Trinidadian fish, his work has focused on the aesthetics of scientific representation, madness, and public parks, the design of t
Jonathan Donges is a postdoctoral researcher who holds a joint position at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (as Stordalen Scholar) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He studies planetary boundaries and social dynamics in the Earth system from a complex dynamical system perspective. At Potsdam, he is Co-head of the flagship COPAN (Coevolutionary Pathways) project (www.pik-potsdam.de/copan). His published research includes work on complex network theory, dynamical systems theory, and time series analysis, with a focus on their application to our understanding of past and present climate variability and its interactions with humankind on planet Earth.
David Edgerton is Hans Rausing Professor of the History of Science and Technology and a professor of modern British history at King’s College London. After teaching at the University of Manchester, he became the founding director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at Imperial College London (1993–2003), and moved along with the centre to King’s College London in August 2013. He is the author of many works, including The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (2007), which argues for and exemplifies new ways of thinking about the material constitution of modernity.
Jennifer Gabrys is Reader in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project, "Citizen Sense." Her publications include Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics (University of Michigan Press, 2011); and Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming).
Florian Goldmann is a Berlin-based artist and a PhD candidate at the DFG Research Training Center Visibility and Visualisation – Hybrid Forms of Pictorial Knowledge as well as at the Brandenburg Center for Media Studies, both Potsdam University. His research focus is the utilization of models as a means of both commemorating and predicting catastrophe. In 2015, he took part in the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan. Goldmann is one of the founders of the research collective STRATAGRIDS and the author of Flexible Signposts to Coded Territories (2012), an analysis of football hooligan graffiti in Athens as a system of fluid signage.
Orit Halpern is a Strategic Hire in Interactive Design and an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal. Her work bridges the histories of science, computing, and cybernetics with design and art practice. She is also a co-director of the Speculative Life Research Cluster, Montreal, a laboratory situated at the intersection of art and life sciences, architecture and design, and computational media (www.speculativelife.com). Her recent monograph, Beautiful Data (2015), is a history of interactivity, data visualization, and ubiquitous computing. www.orithalpern.net
Carola Hein is a professor of the history of architecture and urban planning in the Architecture Department at Delft University of Technology. She has published widely on topics in contemporary and historical architectural and urban planning, notably that of Europe and Japan. Her current research interests include transmission of architectural and urban ideas along international networks, focusing specifically on port cities, and the global architecture of oil. Her books include Port Cities: Dynamic Landscapes and Global Networks (2011), Cities, Autonomy, and Decentralization in Japan (2006), and The Capital of Europe: Architecture and Urban Planning for the European Union (2004).
Julian Henriques is the convener of the MA in Script Writing and Director of the Topology Research Unit in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. Prior to this, he ran the film and television department at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at the University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica. His credits as a writer and director include the reggae musical feature film Babymother (1998) and as a sound artist, Knots & Donuts, exhibited at Tate Modern in 2011. Henriques researches street cultures and technologies and his publications include Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation, and Subjectivity (1998), Sonic Bodies: Reggae Sound Systems, Performance Techniques, and Ways of Knowing (2011), and Sonic Media (forthcoming).
Dr. Alexander Klose studied History, Law, Philosophy, Art, and Cultural Studies. From 2005-07 he held a scholarship at Bauhaus Universität Weimar for his PhD project on standardized containers used in transport as one of the leading material media in the 20th century.
Between 2009 and 2014 he worked as a research associate and programme developer at Kulturstiftung des Bundes. In 2015 in the forefront of COP 21, he co-curated Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge No. 18 – On Becoming Earthlings: 150 dialogues and exercises in shrinking and expanding the Human at Musée de l'Homme, Paris. His latest publication is: The Container Principle. How a box changes the way we think (2015).
Nicole Koltick is an assistant professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University, Philadelphia. She is Founding Director of the Design Futures Lab at Westphal College, which is currently pursuing design research to stimulate debate on the potential implications of emerging technological and scientific developments within society. Koltick’s practice spans art, science, technology, design, and philosophy, and current work focuses on the philosophical, material, and relational implications of aesthetics as they intersect with emerging developments in computational creativity, artificially intelligent autonomous systems, robotics, and synthetic biological hybrids.
Matthijs Kouw joined the Rathenau Instituut, The Hague, in March 2016. He holds an MA in Philosophy and an MSc in Science and Technology Studies from the University of Amsterdam as well as a PhD from Maastricht University. In his PhD thesis, Kouw describes how and to what extent reliance on models can introduce vulnerabilities through the assumptions, uncertainties, and blind spots concomitant with modeling practice. He was employed as a postdoctoral researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), during which time he acted as a member of the Dutch delegation for plenary sessions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Lars Kulik studied biology at the Humboldt University of Berlin. He received his doctorate on the development of social behavior of rhesus monkeys at the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He lives with his family in Berlin.
Richard L. Hindle is an assistant professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at the University of California, Berkeley. His current research focuses on patent innovation in landscape related technologies, from large-scale mappings of riverine and coastal systems to detailed historical studies on the antecedents of vegetated architecture. His work explores the potential of new technological narratives and material processes to reframe theory, practice, and the production of landscape. Recent works include the articles “Levees That Might Have Been” (2015), and “Infrastructures of Innovation” in Scaling Infrastructure (MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism, 2016), and the exhibition Geographies of Innovation at UC Berkeley (2015).
Laura McLean is a curator, artist, and writer based in London. She is a graduate of Goldsmiths College and Sydney College of the Arts, where she later lectured. She has also studied at Alberta College of Art and Design, and the Universität der Künste Berlin.
Eden Medina is an associate professor of informatics and computing, affiliated associate professor of law, and adjunct associate professor of history at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research and teaching address the social, historical, and legal dimensions of our increasingly data-driven world, including the relationship of technology to human rights and free expression, the relationship between political innovation and technological innovation, and the ways that human and political values shape technological design. Medina’s writings also use science and technology as a way to broaden understandings of Latin American history and the geography of innovation. She is the author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile (2011) and the co-editor of Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America (2014).
Anne-Sophie Milon is an artist and a freelance illustrator and animator working and living in Bristol, UK. After completing two Masters in Art, she has recently concluded the program of experimentation in Art and Politics at SciencesPo (SPEAP) in Paris.
Gerald Nestler is an artist and writer who combines theory and post-disciplinary conversation with video, installation, performance, text, code, graphics, sound, and speech. He explores what he calls the derivative condition of contemporary social relations and its paradigmatic financial models, operations, processes, narratives, and fictions. He is currently working on an “aesthetics of resolution” that maps counterfictions and counterimaginations for “renegade activism,” which revolves around the demonstration as a combined artistic, technological, social, and political practice. Nestler holds a practice-based PhD from the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.
James P. M. Syvitski is Executive Director of the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (CSDMS) at the University of Colorado Boulder. From 2011 to 2016, he chaired the International Council for Science’s International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), which provides essential scientific leadership and knowledge of the Earth system to help guide society toward a sustainable pathway during rapid global change. His specialty is the global flux of water and sediment (river and ocean borne) and its trends in the Anthropocene. He works at the forefront of computational geosciences, including sediment transport, land-ocean interactions, and Earth-surface dynamics.
Luciana Parisi is Reader in Cultural Theory, Chair of the PhD program in Cultural Studies, and Co-director of the Digital Culture Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focuses on cybernetics, information theory and computation, complexity and evolutionary theories, and the technocapitalist investment in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. Her books include Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire (2004) and Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, and Space (2013). She is currently researching the history of automation and the philosophical consequences of logical thinking in machines.
f International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada. Her research focuses on border security, migration, and citizenship in North America and Europe. She investigates how citizens and non-citizens engage in citizenship practices and challenge notions
Lizzie Stark is an author, journalist, and experience designer. She is the author of two books, Pandora’s DNA (2014), exploring so-called ‘breast cancer genes’ and her first book, Leaving Mundania (2012), which investigates the subculture of live action role play, or larp. Her journalism and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, the Daily Beast, The Today Show Website, io9, Fusion, the Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere. She holds an MS from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
She has organized numerous conventions and experiences across the US. Her most recent work is as a programming coordinator for Living Games Austin, and as co-editor and contributor for the #Feminism anthology, which collects 34 nano-games written by feminists from eleven countries.
ology of Science and Technology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Lancaster, UK. Her research interests within the field of feminist science and technology studies are focused on technological imaginaries and material practices
Jenna Sutela’s installations, texts, and sound performances seek to identify and react to precarious social and material moments, often in relation to technology. Most recently, she has been exploring exceedingly complex biological and computational systems, ultimately unknowable and always becoming something new. Her work has been presented, among other places, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and her writing has been published by Fiktion, Harvard Design Magazine, and Sternberg Press.
Bronislaw Szerszynski is a Reader in Sociology at Lancaster University in the UK. Szerszynski’s work has developed across several themes, including the role of Western religious history in shaping contemporary understandings of technology and the environment—typified by his book Nature, Technology and the Sacred (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005).
Elisa T. Bertuzzo studied comparative literature, sociology, communication, and media studies and holds a PhD in urban studies. She was a curator and project leader with Habitat Forum Berlin, including for the project Paradigmising Karail Basti (2010–16). Bridging discourses from the fields of cultural and urban studies, her research focuses on the everyday life facets of urbanization and settlement in South Asia. On that topic, she published Fragmented Dhaka: Analysing Everyday Life with Henri Lefebvre’s Theory of Production of Space (2009) and runs her multimedia project Archives of Movement (since 2012), which deals with the everyday life of temporary labor migrants in Bangladesh and India.
Nasrin Tabatabai is an artist who works both in Iran and the Netherlands. Since 2004, she has collaborated with Babak Afrassiabi on various joint projects and the publication of the bilingual magazine Pages (Farsi and English). Their work seeks to articulate the undecidable space between art and its historical conditions, including the recurring question of the place of the archive in defining the juncture between politics, history, and the practice of art. The artists’ work has been presented internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and they have been tutors at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2008–13), and Erg, école supérieure des arts, Brussels (2015–).
Dr. Katerina Teaiwa is Associate Professor at the Department of Gender, Media and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History & Language and the president of the Australian Association for Pacific Studies. Her main area of research looks at the histories of phosphate mining in the central Pacific. Her work does not only span academic research, publications, and lectures, but also manifests itself in other formats within the arts and popular culture. Her work has inspired a permanent exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which tells the story of Pacific phosphate mining through Banaban dance. In 2015, she published „Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba“, Indiana University Press. She is currently working with visual artist Yuki Kihara on a multimedia exhibition for Carriageworks in Sydney.
Etienne Turpin is a philosopher, Founding Director of anexact office, and a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, where he coordinates the Humanitarian Infrastructures Group and co-directs the PetaBencana.id disaster mapping project for the Urban Risk Lab. He is the editor of Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Tim
Asonzeh Ukah is a sociologist and historian of religion. He joined the University of Cape Town in 2013 and previously taught at the University of Bayreuth (2005–13), where he also earned a doctorate and habilitation in history of religions. His research interests include religious urbanism, the sociology of Pentecostalism, and religion and media. He is Director of the Research Institute on Christianity and Society in Africa (RICSA), University of Cape Town, and Affiliated Senior Fellow of Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), University of Bayreuth. He is the author of A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power (2008) and Bourdieu in Africa (edited with Magnus Echtler, 2016).
Sebastian Vehlken is a media theorist and cultural historian at Leuphana University Lüneburg and Permanent Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS). From 2013 to 2017, he worked as MECS Junior Director, and in 2015–16, he was a visiting professor at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, the University of Vienna, and Leuphana. His areas of interest include the theory and history of computer simulation and digital media, the media history of swarm intelligence, and the epistemology of think tanks. His current research project, Plutonium Worlds, explores the application of computer simulations in West German fast breeder reactor programs.
Davor Vidas is a research professor in international law and Director of the Law of the Sea Programme at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Lysaker, Norway. He is Chair of the Committee on International Law and Sea Level Rise and a member of the Anthropocene Working Group. Vidas has been involved in international law research for over thirty years, focusing since 2009 on implications of the Anthropocene for the development of international law. Among his books are The World Ocean in Globalisation (2011) and Law, Technology and Science for Oceans in Globalisation (2010). He is the editor-in-chief of the book series Anthropocene (Skolska knjiga, Zagreb), launched in 2017.
Hannes Wiedemann is a Berlin-based photographer. He studied at the Ostkreuz School of Photography, Berlin. For his project Grinders (2015–16), he followed the American bodyhacking community, a small group of people across the United States working out of garages and basements to become real cyborgs. Recent exhibitions include NEW PHOTOGRAPHY II (2017) at Gallery ALAN, Istanbul, and HUMAN UPGRADE, with Susanna Hertrich (2016), at Schader-Stiftung Gallery, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt. www.hanneswiedemann.com
Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English and Founding Director of 3CT: Center for Critical and Cultural Theory at Rice University, Houston. He is the author of What Is Posthumanism? (2010), a book that weaves together principal concerns of his work: animal studies, system theory, pragmatism, and post-structuralism. It is part of the series Posthumanities, for which he serves as Founding Editor at the University of Minnesota Press. His most recent publication is Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in Biopolitical Frame (2013) and earlier books and edited collections include Animal Rites: American Culture, The Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (2003) and Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (2003).
Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester and Chair of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. A field geologist, paleontologist, and stratigrapher, he teaches and publishes on geology and earth history, in particular on fossil ecosystems and environments that span over half a billion years of geological time.
Liv Østmo is one of the founders and current Dean of the Sámi University of Applied Sciences, Kautokeino, Norway, where she researches and lectures on the subject of multicultural understanding. For the last eight years, Østmo has worked with traditional Sámi knowledge and she is currently working on putting the finishing touches on a methodology book about the documentation of this knowledge.
Algorithmic Finance and the Dark Side of the Efficient Market
Financial market actors manage their risks through what are seen as efficient trading schemas, often while creating new inefficiencies and systemic risks in turn. Starting from the Flash Crash of 2010, artist and theorist Gerald Nestler investigates the problem of information asymmetries in high-frequency trading, demonstrating the need for a new aesthetics of resolution.
CAPITULATION AUTOMATIQUE. RESOLUTION AND DISSOLUTION BEYOND VISIBILITY
99 per cent of finance doesn’t know how the stock market works.
On May 6, 2010, bots played havoc among financial market centers causing mayhem in less than five minutes. The Flash Crash, as it has become known, went viral as the biggest one-day decline in the history of financial markets. During the rapid slump, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by about 1,000 points – nine per cent of its total value – only to recover most of its losses in the next twenty minutes. CNBC Live, initially covering the political stalemate of the Greek austerity crisis and the ensuing protests in the streets of Athens, shifted immediately to the trading floor of the New York stock exchange: “What the heck is going on down there? […] I don’t know […] this is fear, this is capitulation.”Quoted from (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bnc9jR2WDgo).
The Flash Crash constitutes a watershed event in financial markets. Algorithmic trading had taken center-stage. Human traders lost their bearings in the event and a live broadcast for professional traders commented: “This will blow people out in a big way like you won’t believe.”Ben Lichtenstein, the “voice of the CME S&P futures pit,” Traders Audio, “May 6, 2010 Stock Market Crash,” May 12, 2010 The original source is no longer available online but the quote can be found here: Gerald Nestler, COUNTERING CAPITULATION. From Automated Participation to Renegade Solidarity, single channel video, 11:20 min., 2013-14 [from 10:36] (https://vimeo.com/channels/aor). Technically, capitulation means panic selling due to pessimism and resignation. But apart from financial losses, the term “capitulation” implies a liquidation of visibility in the sense of unmediated human perception and collective resolution. Hence, the broadcast highlighted the relevance of political economy today. What, one may ask, informs such potent noise without leaving much of a trace? And how does it affect us?
The debate that ensued in the aftermath of this ferocious event pitted for the first time in financial market history those who upheld the generally accepted opinion, which blames human error, against a dissenting opinion, which held algorithmic trading and automation accountable. As collateral, high-frequency trading (HFT) came to public attention. Journalists and bloggers picked up on the topic and eventually it appeared as if the financial markets were at the mercy of smart quants and developers who tuned hardware, tweaked infrastructure, and coded algorithms to drive these automated speculations.To list all the blog entries, articles, and publications on this topic would go beyond the scope of this essay (the Wikipedia entry “2010 Flash Crash” lists some of the more noted contributions), I only mention two books, which became bestsellers, Scott Patterson, Dark Pools: The Rise of A. I. Trading Machines and the Looming Threat to Wall Street. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2012; and Michael Lewis, Flash Boys. New York: Norton & Company, 2014. The HFT expert and whistleblower Haim Bodek speaks of “avalanching” to describe the real-time violence with which HFT orders impact markets – a massive melt down that would dwarf the Flash Crash is an event with a probability far above zero.
Stills from CNBS News, May 6, 2010. Image: CNBC.
HFT achieved unparalleled market shares (up to 80 percent of US stock transactions in 2012) due to the high trading volume necessary to deliver profits (see below). However, the impact of HFT as the characteristic feature of contemporary finance is often exaggerated. Revenues are relatively small when compared to the total market.Revenues in the sector were at 7.2 billion US dollars in 2009 but diminished to 1.3 billion in 2014. More recently, HFT market share has dropped due to hypercompetition and the infrastructure costs that accrue in the effort to stay competitive in markets with diminishing bid-ask spreads (a result of HFT competition).See, for example the Deutsche Bank Report High Frequency Trading: Reaching its limits (https://www.dbresearch.com/PROD/DBR_INTERNET_EN-PROD/PROD0000000000406105/High-frequency_trading%3A_Reaching_the_limits.pdf). However, automation and algorithms have, apart from exploiting “predictive structures,”Donald MacKenzie, “A material political economy: Automated Trading Desk and price prediction in high-frequency trading,” Social Studies of Science (article first published online: December 6, 2016
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312716676900), p. 6. ushered in a new trading paradigm: the direct interception into the pricing mechanisms relying on speed (or, more technically, low latency).
In order to examine the consequences of HFT I resort to the term “resolution” and its relation to immediacy as visibility. What are the most consequential implications of quantitative trading in a hypercompetitive environment? The diverging interpretations of the Flash Crash 2010 can help us to delineate the issue of HFT and its regulation as a starting point to tackle some of the artificial unknowns that shape this practice today. My interest is not in resolving which of the two positions holds true – both the official investigation by the joint SEC/CFTCThe Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) report and the analysis by the financial data provider Nanex are controversial and received comprehensible criticism. Instead, I will focus on the “visibility conditions” (how they relate to immediacy) and the resolution philosophy that informs them.
THE FLASH CRASH. RESOLUTION IN MICROTIME
A distributed system is one in which the failure of a computer
you didn’t even know existed can render your own computer unusable.
—Leslie LamportLeslie Lamport in: My Writings Distribution 75. Email message sent to a DEC SRC bulletin board at 12:23:29 PDT, May 28, 1987 http://lamport.azurewebsites.net/pubs/distributed-system.txt
The investigation of the Flash Crash resulted in a joint official report by the US-regulatory authorities, the SEC and the CFTC.“Findings Regarding the Market Events of May 6, 2010: Reports of the staffs of the CFTC and SEC to the joint advisory committee on emerging regulatory issues,” September 30, 2010 (http://www.sec.gov/news/studies/2010/marketevents-report.pdf). It was published a few months after the incident and put the blame on human trading. A contrasting analysis of the event conducted by a small financial data provider claimed that the crash was in fact caused by orders executed automatically by algorithms. Nanex LLC,Nanex is a market research firm that supplies real-time data feeds of trades and quotes for US stock, option and futures exchanges. Their website states, “[W]e have archived this data since 2004 and have created and used numerous tools to help us sift through the enormous dataset: approximately 2.5 trillion quotes and trades as of June 2010.” a financial service provider, records trading data and was therefore in the position to examine the event on their own account.
The SEC and CFTC based their official report on the material made available by exchanges and market participants, which usually has a resolution of one-minute trading intervals. This dataset would have been adequate to scrutinize trading activities before the ascent of HFT. But today, “in the blink of an eye, the market moves what used to take humans thirty minutes.”Transcript of Adam Taggart, “Eric Hunsader: Investors Need to Realize the Machines Have Taken Over. The blink of an eye is a lifetime for HFT algos,” Peak Prosperity, October 6, 2012 (http://www.peakprosperity.com/podcast/79804/nanex-investors-realize-machines-taken-over). The quote by the founder of Nanex illustrates the sheer pointlessness of scrutinizing market activity above the transaction frequency of the fastest traders. Their professional experience with market data allowed Nanex to intuitively escape the trap of the one-minute resolution, which in the case of HFT conceals more than it reveals.Another example is the crash of Knight Capital in 2010. Nanex, who analyzed the incident, remark: “If we zoom in and look at what happens under one second, then a clear pattern emerges. We think it’s important to note that the SEC claimed there is no value to be gained from looking at data in time resolutions under a second ‘because it is just noise’. We strongly disagree.” (http://www.nanex.net/aqck2/3522.html). They realized that conventional market data records did not show any material traces of what might have initiated the rupture, which tore the intricate fabric of market prices. They decided to delve deeper into the “abyss” of micro-time and look at fractions of a second. Step-by-step, they enhanced the temporal resolution and eventually, at a dizzying depth of time, the material traces of the Flash Crash came into view.
When Nanex made a strike of market activity far below the threshold of perception, what they ‘”saw” at first glance looked like a glitch. But what emerged from the forensic analysis were the imprints of an elaborate scheme. They had encountered information in a realm that was deemed to only emit noise if anything.Noise as opposed to signal is the term for random information in information theory. As financial markets are constructed as information markets (both in the Hayekian sense of the price regime and cybernetics), noise is a constituent element of trading. Following Fischer Black we can define it as the ubiquitous other of information: “Noise makes financial markets possible, but also makes them imperfect,” in Fischer Black, “Noise,” Journal of Finance, vol. 41, no. 3 (1986), pp. 529‒43, here p. 530. As the founder and CEO of Nanex, Eric Hunsader, stated: “The SEC/CFTC analysts clearly didn’t have the dataset to do it in the first place. One-minute snapshot data, you can’t tell what happened inside of that minute. We didn’t really see the relationship between the trades and the quote rates until we went under a second.”U.S. ‘flash crash’ report ignores research ‒ Nanex,” Sify Finance, October 5, 2010 (http://www.sify.com/finance/u-s-flash-crash-report-ignores-research-nanex-news-insurance-kkfiEjeciij.html).
ZeroHedge was one of the first finance blogs to report on Nanex’s Flash Crash analysis and embedded an interactive map of their findings, see (http://www.zerohedge.com/article/most-detailed-forensic-analysis-flash-crash-date-and-likely-ever). Their final statement was unambiguous: “High Frequency Trading caused the Flash Crash. Of this, we are sure.”See Nanex ~ 26-Mar-2013 ~ Flash Crash Mystery Solved (http://www.nanex.net/aqck2/4150.html). Even though Nanex found evidence of trades they could not provide evidence on the perpetrator because the law protects proprietary data and its source.
Excerpt from COUNTERING CAPITULATION. From Automated Participation to Renegade Solidarity, single channel video, 2013-14.
“We present this Flash Crash Summary Report using a time-line graph to distinguish the events that caused the crash from those that were effects of the crash. The main chart covers from 14:42:30 to 14:52:00 in 1 second intervals, and the inset covers from 14:42:43 to 14:42:46 in 25ms intervals.” “Nanex Flash Crash Summary Report,” Nanex, September 27, 2010. Image: Nanex, LLC.
I won’t address the truth claims of Nanex’s and the official reports. My main concern is the discrepancy between the material traces and their consequences. I will therefore focus on Nanex as one provider of a set of forensic resolutionsThe author has developed an aesthetic concept on the term “resolution” which due to space cannot be presented here. For those interested, this link provides more information: https://researchcultures.com/issues/1/towards-a-poietics-of-resolution.html. on the material data of the Flash Crash. It raises the question of how resolution techniques operate as regards visualization (making tools that enhance perception and render material evidence), evaluative measuring (computation / calculation of sequences and relations) and knowledge-production (analysis / interpretation of material). Even though such high-resolution telescopes offer glimpses into financial microtime, attribution, and solution – the decisive elements of the semantic field of the term resolution – are beyond the capacity of Nanex or any third party (both market participants and the general public). The question as regards the actuator(s) of the Flash Crash has as yet not been fully resolved.This essay is also not concerned with the recent exposure of the ostensible culprit. According to a news report, “Mr Sarao’s spoofing netted him a profit of $40m (£28m), according to the US,” the Independent, February 5, 2016 (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/navinder-singh-sarao-british-flash-crash-trader-broke-no-laws-says-lawyer-a6856791.html).
REPERFORMATIVE FORENSICS IN A HYPERCOMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT
All consciousness is a matter of threshold.
—Gilles Deleuze Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 64.
An investigation into the complexity of market interplay is not only confronted with one or several black boxes but with the meta-black box of the market per se, which encompasses the entire system in its complexity, including but not restricted to brokers, traders (in the broadest term), and market centers. As the former HFT trader David Lauer remarks:
The markets and the interplay in the industry between all these firms with all these very complicated and complex technology systems and how they interact makes the entire system of exchanges, high-frequency, brokers and the interaction between the technology, it makes it a complex system. […] There is no cause and effect that you can point to. What caused the Flash Crash is a nonsense question. […] And, if you were to replay the same sequence of events, identically, there’s no guarantee that it will cause a Flash Crash again. That’s the nature of complex systems.David Lauer in Marijke Meerman (dir), The Wall Street Code, documentary, 51 min (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFQJNeQDDHA, at 46:00–46:48).
Nanex, after failing to attribute motive and blame, amended their strategy towards an investigation that mixed forensic analysis with “witness review” by information disclosure. They asked the party blamed (though not identified) by the official report, the mutual fund Waddell & Reed, to grant access to their trading data. In accordance with the capitalist proprietary regime, it is most plausible that the fund would have declined if they had not been blamed. But by that time, Waddell & Reed had a vested interest in clearing their name. The incorporation of the proprietary source code allowed Nanex to classify the data of a specific address. Their analysis relied on an apparatus that pairs four quantitative frameworks in an effort to deliver sufficient approximation to the trading operations: Nanex’s extensive archive of financial data; quantitative analysis; custom-made, adaptive resolution devices that powered the investigation of the data sets; and the algorithmic trading data from the financial black box (the mutual fund and the executing algorithm of their broker Barclay Capital Inc.).See, for example Herbert Lash, “CFTC, Barclays discussed Waddell algorithm-source,” Reuters, October 22, 2010 (http://www.reuters.com/article/flashcrash-barclays-idUSN2219178020101022). This framework led Nanex to deviate from the official narrative. Even if their interpretation is controversial (algo traders, for instance, hailed the official report), it helped bring the cybernetic regime of HFT to light.
A paper presented in 2014 co-authored by members of the original investigation team of the SEC and CFTC report maintains the official narrative (2010) that “HFT did not cause the Flash Crash, but contributed to extraordinary market volatility experienced on May 6, 2010. […] high frequency trading contributes to flash-crash-type events by exploiting short-lived imbalances in market conditions.”Andrei Kirlinko et al., The Flash Crash: The Impact of High Frequency Trading on an Electronic Market (2014), p. 2, see (http://www.cftc.gov/idc/groups/public/@economicanalysis/documents/file/oce_flashcrash0314.pdf). The authors detect immediacy as problematic, as it is exacerbated by HFT to its own benefit.
Because advanced trading technology can be deployed with little alteration across many automated markets, the cost of providing intermediation services per market has fallen drastically. As a result, the supply of immediacy provided by the HFTs has skyrocketed. At the same time, the benefits of immediacy accrue disproportionally to those who possess the technology to take advantage of it. As a result, HFTs have also become the main beneficiaries of immediacy, using it not only to lower their adverse selection costs, but also to take advantage of the customers who dislike adverse selection, but do not have the technology to be able to trade as quickly as they would like to. These market participants express their demands for immediacy in their trading orders, but are too slow to execute these orders compared to the HFTs. Consequently, HFTs can both increase their demand for immediacy and decrease their supply of immediacy just ahead of any slower immediacy-seeking customer.Kirilenko et al.,The Flash Crash, p. 3.
Immediacy, I would argue, defines visibility as a performative issue. In relation to market activity – especially in times of high volatility but not restricted to these moments – immediacy equals visibility, or, more accurately, immediacy is technological visibility constructed by resolution techniques. Hence, developers in the algorithmic trading space increase obscurity within the entire playing field by narrowing, if not modifying, the field of visibility (of the order book, to be precise). This instance is the most current in a row of performative revolutions in finance that started with the displacement of (human) floor traders by quants (the framing of finance by Black Scholes Merton (BSM); the quantification of the volatility curve in the pricing regime) and goes hand in hand with shifts between cost centers and profit centers.I owe this assessment to the HFT expert and whistleblower Haim Bodek with whom I am currently working on the cartography of algorithmic trading.
When we accept immediacy as a form of visibility in micro-time – engineered by resolution techniques that both enhance the visual field and act upon it (and obscuring it for those lacking the means) – we can adopt Michel Callon and Donald MacKenzie’s remarks on performativity. While MacKenzie focuses on a different realm of financial market activity – precisely derivatives trading and the BSM model, and hence the profit model of finance that was challenged by HFT and other low latency trading applications – Callon offers a wider interpretation of performativity: “My thesis is that both the natural and life sciences, along with the social sciences, contribute towards enacting the realities that they describe.”Michel Callon, What does it mean to say that economics is performative?, CSI Working Papers Series no. 005, 2006, p. 7. The black box as a scientific apparatus has conquered finance and constructs its reality in a similar way as economic theories acted on it. When we think of all the flash crashes that keep recurring or the “avalanching” Bodek mentions, the term “counterperformativity”MacKenzie, in An Engine, not a Camera: “The strong, Barnesian [a term he uses to distinguish his sociological from Austin’s linguistic approach] sense of ‘performativity,’ in which the use of a model (or some other aspect of economics) makes it ‘more true,’ raises the possibility of its converse: that the effect of the practical use of a theory or model may be to alter economic processes so that they conform less well to the theory or model. Let me call this possibility – which is not explicit in Callon’s work – ‘counterperformativity.’” See Donald MacKenzie, An Engine, not a Camera. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, p. 19. seems to highlight this fact even more robustly:
Whereas the notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy explains success or failure in terms of beliefs only, that of performativity goes beyond human minds and deploys all the materialities comprising the socio-technical agencements that constitute the world in which these agents are plunged: performativity leaves open the possibility of events that might refute, or even happen independently of, what humans believe or think. MacKenzie proposes the notion of counter-performativity to denote these failures, because in this case the [Black Scholes Merton] formula produces behaviors that eventually undermine it.Callon, What does it mean to say that economics is performative?, p. 17.
Due to the complexity described by Lauer, the market cannot simply be “captured” in all its immediacy and “replayed” like a film.In a philosophical discussion of this thought, Jon Roffe emphasizes the “eventual character of price […], for, strictly speaking, no price can ever be repeated. This is because any given price is recorded on a surface and in this way changes it. To repeat the same price – where price is now grasped at the moment of its advent – can never have the same effect on the market surface itself.” See Roffe, Abstract Market Theory. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, p. 71. The vision-enhancing sensors that detect time-blurred traces and mark discriminations in a complex environment deliver information from noise, which has to be unearthed and then resolved in a separate stage. Thus, a forensic analysis is neither fully embodied nor defined by the abstract representations of data traffic. Rather, the analysis is situated, i.e. constructed, in between the juncture of performance as the actual presence of an event taking place (exemplified by the occurrence of the Flash Crash); performative analysis as providing (making visible) “visual collateral” of a “re-animation” of the original obscured presence after the fact; and beyond market activity per se, and thus also beyond MacKenzie’s use of the term, counterperformativity as the effect of a renegade act disclosing material otherwise under non-disclosure as a consequence of “capitulation.”The performative setting of Nanex’s analysis might have influenced its outcome counterperformatively in the sense that analysis constructs findings and solutions.
We can now outline a sharper distinction, which will help us to grasp what is at play in the forensic documentation and evaluation apparatus. Artificial sense organs reach into micro-time by increasing the resolution bandwidth in order to revisit the otherwise insensible “scene of the crime.” The analysis is thus an intricate and extensive cybernetic undertaking characterized by a process of re-mapping, re-modeling, re-visioning, and re-narrating a specific past that happened at near-light speed—a performance ex post that was the occurrence of a future event. As this approach re-enacts the performance of the event, the methodology can be specified as a reperformance. The technological, calculative aspect of sifting data to come up with evidence – enacting the reperformance – becomes explicit in the sheer enormity of the material Nanex examined:
May 6th had approximately 7.6 billion […] records. We generated over 4,500 datasets and over 1,200 charts before uncovering what we believe precipitated the swift 600 point drop […]. In generating these data sets we have also developed several proprietary applications that identify the conditions described in real time or for historical analysis.Data quoted from Nanex data feed information (http://www.nanex.net/20100506/FlashCrashAnalysis_About.html).
Only rigorous research into the deeper, imperceptible strata of microscopic time reveals the actual material matrix. Such an excavation elucidates an inversion of time from Chronos to Kairos – from a chronological interpretation (replay) of pricing to one of intense event time (real time). Methodologically, it inverts the relation between time and space: while the common notion of archaeology entails entering into concrete and thick space cautiously (as when employing technologies of surveying, probing, and classifying), in order to extract the material witness (a truth) of a former era, an archaeology of finance is a forensics of the performance of the future. It probes into the imperceptible materiality of time becoming. It detects patterns and recovers artifacts whose existence are derived from financial models and built on technologies of miniaturization, automation, and infrastructure aligned with the politics of securing, excluding, and enclosing. Research is applied on a field of “making happen” in which “the concept of performativity has lead to the replacement of the concept of truth (or non-truth) by that of success or failure.”Callon, What does it mean to say that economics is performative?, p. 13. This time around, however, it was not an economic modeling of volatility (i.e. hedging risk) but latency and order-book penetration (i.e. the technologically induced pursuit of riskless profits).
A NOISE WITHOUT SIGNAL: INFORMATION ASYMMETRY
Noise crashes within as well as without.
—N. Katherine HaylesN. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cyberspace, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1999, p. 291.
The Flash Crash narrative unfolds in the extended realm of trading bandwidth and the reduction of profit margins in which a technopolitical regime of success/failure becomes apparent via exclusion/inclusion. It prioritizes the algorithmic aesthesis of an elite of HFT traders.The conviction of BATS Global Markets by the SEC on the grounds of a preference of a group of influential HFTs – who, as Bodek elucidates, are often shareholders of the exchanges – proves this. This information asymmetry was due to specific advantageous order types. Manoj Narang, a former champion of HFT, viewed this as part of the competitive ecology of HFT that is synonymous with other technological applications:
[…] many micro-industries experience an initial phase of immense profitability, which in turn attracts a great many new participants. These new participants drive up competition, which in turn causes profit margins to diminish. Eventually, so many participants are competing that margins can turn negative.Rishi K. Narang (with contributions by Manoj Narang), The Truth about High-Frequency Trading. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2014, pp. 18‒19.
Bodek, however, whose HFT hedge fund went bankrupt due to “order flow information asymmetries,” gives a darker view of the “noisy” ecology of HFT:
There’s basically interaction in the market. This firm knows how this works here, they know this practice works over there, and they’re able to get to 15% or 20% of the market because they know that – and that’s the only reason they can get there […] you have this efficient market and certain regulators say it’s great, it’s only a penny wide, the customer gets the best price. And now I’m telling you, you can have a firm with 20% of the market and the rules change a little bit and some transparency happens and they collapse to 3%. So, what’s your takeaway? What’s my epiphany? I basically believe that individuals running large trading companies, cannot actually tolerate a zero profit margin environment. We will find ways around that situation. We will cheat. We will manufacture situations. We will undermine infrastructure.Haim Bodek in Gerald Nestler, CONTINGENT ETHICS: Portrait of a Philosphies series II, 2014, single channel video. [0:20:24] There seems to be a relation between zero spread and zero marginal utility and the corporate schemes of nevertheless extracting profits by manufacturing monopolies.
Below the radar of state agencies established to regulate market activity, corporate self-interest created an even deeper level of incorporation programmed into automated trading as the “genetic” code of a new breed of agency in the market system. Mathematical models and algorithms revolutionized the logistic infrastructure of exchanges and displaced the trading pit and its market makers (human traders known as “specialists” or “locals”) in favor of faster execution rates and smaller spreads.Donald MacKenzie and Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra argue that “[t]wenty years ago, share trading in the US was still almost entirely human-mediated and mostly took place in just two marketplaces: NYSE [New York Stock Exchange} and NASDAQ [National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations]. Now, there are thirteen exchanges and more than fifty other trading venues. Only a very small minority of deals are now consummated by human beings: the heart of trading is tens of thousands of computer servers, in often huge datacenters linked by fiber-optic cables carrying millions of messages a second.” See MacKenzie and Pardo-Guerra, “Insurgent capitalism: Island, bricolage and the re-making of finance,” Economy and Society, vol. 43, no. 2 (2014), pp. 153‒82. Algorithmic traders instituted an arena around and between matching engines where they intervene without human intermediaries. Inigo Wilkins and Bogdan Dragos argue that “algorithms are no longer tools, but they are active in analyzing economic data, translating it into relevant information and producing trading orders.”Inigo Wilkins and Bogdan Dragos, “Destructive Destruction? An Ecological Study of High Frequency Trading,” Mute, January 22, 2013 (http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/destructive-destruction-ecological-study-high-frequency-trading#). J. Doyne Farmer, a former financial engineer and co-director of the program on complexity economics at Oxford’s Institute for New Economic Thinking, notes, “under price-time priority auction there is a huge advantage to speed.”J. Doyne Farmer, “The impact of computer based training on systemic risk,” Paper presented at the London School of Economics, London, January 11, 2013. And as exchange places are also profit-seeking corporations, the competition expands to the market system in its entirety. Exchanges are not a sort of public places in which capitalist competitors meet; they are players with their own business interests and offer structural as well as financial incentives to increase trading volume, to give but one example.
What emerged is a hypercompetitive environment that tweaks market system rules and infrastructures. It “skews” the smile problem from the surface of derivatives-pricing to the immediacy of latency volatility – a term I propose for the inconsistencies (rather than uncertainties) in a hypercompetitive trading environment, in which developers have replaced quants as the leaders of innovation. Even if there is an absolute limit to speed, the operable spaces of time between human perception and algorithmic reaction time are cosmic, to say the least. A divide of response time has opened up, the gaping but invisible abyss of latency: a new class of resolution enclosures and scales – and hence knowledge – has found the means to effectively hide its machinations from less immediate competitors. If derivative finance and its abstract models were (and still are) a mystery to the public at large, automated trading has escalated finance beyond all recognition. Here, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s notion of apperception ceases to be a conception of conscious experience emerging from small, unconscious perceptions. The myriads of mathematically constructed small perceptions (of which these camera-engines are not at all “unconscious”) define a virtual field of machine apperception where those who do not command the latest cyborg infrastructure are captured or blocked. Information asymmetries gain traction on the level of systemic visibility. The financial market architecture with its proprietary logistics is a black box not only with regard to the parameters of official inquest, but also in terms of knowability in general (and beyond algorithmic trading proper).
What the high-frequency black box emits is not information but noise. Such technowledge (a term I use to distinguish bot-coded acquisition of knowledge) exerts influence not only on the industry, but of necessity also incapacitates the public forum as a whole. Quantitative speech translates into intense algorithmic violence, invisible and insensible, built on performances that are real but unrecognizable (fictitious capital in the sense of applying tricks and asymmetries but not in the sense of it being insubstantial). Noise exceeds the category of information theory. It is the asymmetric other that is not detected by the majority of market participants because it is not a signal in the sense of communication. In the ever-denser, hypercompetitive environment of narrowing spreads, only the ruthless survive. Noise is a guerilla tactics that stops at nothing in its ‘“pursuit” for profit.Haim Bodek’s whistle-blowing proved that also market centers are partners in crime, e.g. see Bradley Hope, “BATS to Pay $14 Million to Settle Direct Edge Order-Type Case: SEC Fine Is a Record Amount Against a Stock Exchange,” The Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2015 (http://www.wsj.com/articles/direct-edge-exchanges-to-pay-14-million-penalty-over-order-type-descriptions-1421082603). It is not simply a tool; it is a weapon of counterinformation that injures without inflicting the feeling of pain directly; a powerful and disruptive “rhythual,” to add the layer of the ‘immediated’ frequency of algorithmic speech to Judith Butler’s performative “ritual”:
The performative needs to be rethought not only as an act that an official language-user wields in order to implement already authorized effects, but precisely as social rhythual [original: ritual], as one of the very ‘modalities of practices [that] are powerful and hard to resist precisely because they are silent and insidious, insistent and insinuating’: When we say that an insult strikes like a blow, we imply that our bodies are injured by such speech.Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. London and New York: Routledge, 1997, p. 159.
The most cunning insults are indirect. Fischer Black, in his seminal text succinctly entitled Noise, holds that “noise is information that hasn’t arrived yet.”Fischer Black, “Noise,” Journal of Finance, vol. 41, no. 3 (1986), pp. 529‒43, here p. 529. Black counts five models of noise, the one quoted here relates to business cycles and unemployment and as such, we imply, to the wider economy and to social consequences. When we accept, as evidence has shown, that low latency trading is defined by speed advantage, we must ascertain a bifurcation that goes far beyond competitive advantage in Hayekian information markets.See also note 12. Those who do not command the automated rhythual of micro-time face noise as the “silent and insidious” other of information; they cannot perform equally and thus cannot partake in “that reiterative power of [market] discourse to produce the phenomena that it regulates and constrains,”Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. xii, accessed online (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performativity). to adopt Butler’s linguistic reading of performativity to the fitting speculative speech of financial markets.I should note here that adopting Butler’s work to finance is not a novel approach. Arjun Appadurai writes in Banking on Words, that “Judith Butler’s work introduced the idea of what I now refer to as retro-performativity, which allows us to see that ritual can be regarded as a framework for the co-staging of uncertainty and certainty in social life.” See Appadurai, Banking on Words: The Failure of Language in the Age of Derivative Finance. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2016, p. 111. We might say that insult as information asymmetry turns into the violence of noise asymmetry and its fictitious claims – a limitation of visibility that forms the space in which the reiteration of algo speech becomes the dominant (cipher) language; an avalanching of “volatility created by circulatory forces so as to preserve and restore [their] liquidity.”Edward Li Puma, “Ritual in Financial Life,” in Benjamin Lee and Randy Martin (eds), Derivatives and the Wealth of Societies. Chicago, IL, and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2016, p. 51 (term “their” and emphasis by the author).
Only money is free from any quality and exclusively determined by quantity.
—Georg SimmelGeorg Simmel, The Philosophy of Money. London and New York: Routledge, 3rd edition, 2004, p. 281.
While in the early 1990s, quants were still dependent on human runners and traders on the trading floors in Chicago and other major market centers (with the exception of the NASDAQ), artificial (neural) networks and automation of order transaction, order flow, and the price engine took another ten years and more to be implemented fully. The electronic global data flow represented by the Bloomberg terminal as a non-human extension of the “individual” traders on the trading floor, forged a cyborg dividuality in which every dividual blends into and is bound to the global information and pricing engine.As regards capitalism, one might think of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notions of “body without organs” and “organs without body” in the sense that the corporation could be interpreted as the ‘legal individual' from whose incorporated organism dividuals derive. See Gerald Nestler, “The Non-Space of Money, or, the Pseudo-Common Oracle of Risk Production,” in Paratactic Commons: amber’12 art and Technology Festival Catalog (December 2013), pp. 150‒54, also online (https://issuu.com/ekmelertan/docs/amber12/1). Uncertainty is turned into a global negotiation on volatility (risk), calibrated dividualy and externalized individually in the case of underperformance. In his thesis on proprietary trading, Robert Wosnitzer argues, “the subjectivity of the trader is mutually co-constitutive with the practice of prop trading, where a dividual subject emerges that has mastered, for better or worse, the social and economic value of a world in which the derivative rules.”Robert Wosnitzer, “Desk, Firm, God, Country: Proprietary Trading And The Speculative Ethos Of Financialism,” unpublished PhD thesis New York University, 2014, p. 171; publication forthcoming. For Arjun Appadurai this derivative logic exceeds beyond the world of trading:
Contemporary finance lies at the heart of […] dividualizing techniques, because it relies on a management and exploitation of risks that are not the primary risks of ordinary individuals in an uncertain world but the derivative or secondary risks that can be designed in the aggregation and recombination of large masses of dividualized behaviors and attributes.Arjun Appadurai, “The Wealth of Dividuals,” in: Benjamin Lee and Randy Martin (eds), Derivatives and the Wealth of Societies. Chicago, IL, and London: University of Chicago Press, 2016, p. 25.
In the course of the production of these claims, Austin’s performativity shifted to Callon’s conception and MacKenzie’s “counterperformativity” (both underscore the impact of economics on finance) and eventually turned into a non-individual ontology of immanence in which technological risk assemblages composed of human and bot actors have become the productive force of complex and contingent open-heart operations on a future in real time. The operational division between uncertainty and risk that Frank Knight introduced in 1921Frank H. Knight, Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit. Boston, MA: Hart, Schaffner & Marx, 1921. and which underlies derivative finance has found its corresponding technologies with the scientification of finance. I abstract this shift by arguing that the mode of production of finance is the production of riskThis is a theoretical concept of the function of financial markets, and not a trivial allegation against the speculative rage of markets and their catastrophic consequences. – the material production and exploitation of quantifiable futures (options) by trading volatility (on volatility and so forth) in a sea of uncertaintyWhile Esposito argues that “uncertainty […] is the engine and stimulus of economic activity, allowing for the development of creativity and the generation of novelties” (Elena Esposito, „The structures of uncertainty: performativity and unpredictability in economic operations,” Economy and Society, 42:1, p. 120), accepted opinion in the social studies of finance holds that markets block out uncertainty in favor of risk. – a state of affairs that goes beyond neoliberalism and financialization and that I propose to term the derivative condition of social relations. Every option is a virtual, quasi-material trajectory into the future and in tight connection with the myriads of other options traded. Deleuze writes:
The only danger in all this is that the virtual could be confused with the possible. The possible is opposed to the real; the process undergone by the possible is therefore a ‘realization’. By contrast, the virtual is not opposed to the real; it possesses a full reality by itself. The process it undergoes is that of actualization.Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, p. 211.
The recalibration process of dynamic hedging and implied volatility is a “thick narrative” of the Deleuzian virtual – of virtual pricing actualized at every moment (markets trade and no possibility exists). It is a virtual universe that resolves the future by the actualization of price quasi in parallel to real events. As the production of risk is finance’s mode of production – processed by a multitude of complex price layers circulating and recalibrated at any given moment – to say “parallel” is not to say that these worlds do not meet. Quite to the contrary, by blocking out uncertainty and elaborating massive systems that calculate and exploit risk (options), this mode of production is an attractor for reality to emerge within its volatile “gravitational” field. In the words of Elie Ayache, the market is “the technology of the future.”Elie Ayache, The Medium of Contingency. An Inverse View of the Market, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, p. 52.
Today, the technology of the future is enshrined in the black box; resolution – both as technology and solution – is proprietary without exception. Externalities do not only appear as the “past” of industrial activity (as its consequence), they affect the future. Consequence trails ahead, as finance – one should rather say the finance-state complex as the result of the 2008 financial crisis – models the world along the lines of probability regimes (this is not confined to markets, as e.g. big data proves). While future profits are being reaped, future losses are socialized (austerity politics, for one, are schemes on the future) – a counterperformativity not of the market but the world. The absolute distance between now and the future is approximated for those who can attach to the future as an intensive space of immediate visibilityRoffe: “absolute surfaces are intensive surfaces.” in Abstract Market Theory, p. 70. – mainly by way of leveraging resolution technowledge; it is inaccessible for those whose obligations are defined by debt as a bond to the past.The space for this article does not allow a discussion of leverage and debt in the social order. Elsewhere I make use of this divide to offer a reading of information capitalism’s social class relations, in which what I call the leverage class relishes in good prospects, and the different tiers of the debt-classes are tied to past obligations and illiquid presents, which annihilate the possibilities of the future.
Performativity is not about creating but about making happen.
—Michel CallonMichel Callon, CSI Working Papers Series, 2006, p. 22.
N. Katherine Hayles reminds us “for information to exist, it must always be instantiated in a medium.”Hayles, How we Became Posthuman, p. 13. Bots act (but not always interact) on the infrastructure. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, they “massage”“Massaging” is used here in a playful way similar to Marshall McLuhan’s. His dictum, “The medium is the message,” in Understanding Media (1964), in which the medium shapes “the scale and form of human association and action,” here, is extended to the algorithmic realm and the effects of bots on both the individual and political body. Space does not allow engaging more deeply with McLuhan’s media theory and its relevance for algorithmic media. See McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964. an electronic “body” whose environment (market) they reconfigure into an algorithmic space. At the center of HFT are developers that speed up transactions to the level of microseconds. Profit is not primarily being sought by dynamic hedging in an uncertain environment. HFT is less engaged with implied volatility and the pricing of derivatives. Hence, quants – not long ago the masters of this universe – are at the threshold of being replaced by big data systems.See, for example, Nathaniel Popper, “The Robots Are Coming for Wall Street,” The New York Times Magazine, February 26, 2016 (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/the-robots-are-coming-for-wall-street.html). In this technosphere, the “core” of the market – the order book – is being exploited directly and with high volume in the attempt to amass small but (deemed relatively) riskless profits by reading, interfering, and controlling the signals sent by the matching engine. The production of risk turns into an operational hazard of optimizing infrastructure, hardware, code, and market infrastructure (including exchange places and order types) rather than a mathematically scrutinized pocket of uncertainty. And while the complex algorithms of derivative trading serve the calculation and recalibration of all the prices in the derivative universe, HFT algos need to be simple in order to facilitate low latency interaction. Massive amounts of data are analyzed, but the trading logistics is streamlined to happen in a flash.
As regards the technological incorporation of financial markets today and their infrastructure, the principle resolution threshold is the visibility of the order book – the information is (in the textbook ideal) visible to all market participants and can be acted upon instantly. The Regulation National Market System (Reg NMS), for example, was enacted to establish such a market ideal, but ‘instantly’ exploited by execution rates faster then price consolidation.
The introduction of Regulation NMS in 2007 triggered the dramatic surge of HFT volume in US equity markets. Not well understood at the time was that for-profit electronic exchanges had artificially spurred this volume growth, catering to the ‘the new market makers’ by providing HFTs specialized features and discriminatory advantages that dovetailed with HFT strategies. Indeed, by circumventing the purpose and intent of Regulation NMS through a myriad of legal exceptions and clever regulatory workarounds, electronic exchanges have assisted HFTs in exploiting market fragmentation for mutual gain at the expense of institutional investors.Haim Bodek in his talk on the topic of “The Problem of HFT” at the Denver Security Trader Association ‒ 43rd Annual Convention, July 12, 2013 (http://haimbodek.com/past_events.html).
The crucial term for real-time action is “instant,” as it opens up to the whole gamut of technowledge that constantly redefines latency and speed horizons – and therefore the increment of an actionable instant as well as the constriction of immediate visibility to resolution machines. As the outspoken HFT critic Bodek ascribes the “cannibalistic” acceleration to competitive advantage:
Since 2007, we saw compression in the algorithm trading space where the profit margins approached near zero. And I am part of that problem. I ran my firm specifically to tighten up markets. We sometimes call that the race to the bottom in the business. […] What is the activity that’s driving that race to the bottom? You say, ‘If I can make a near-risk-free fraction of a cent and even if the whole day would have demanded a little bit more, I’m happy to do that now even if we barely make a profit because I’m basically taking away the opportunity for someone else to make a profit.’ […] The strategy, which many of the algorithm trading firms did, was basically market share and just bring it to a place where our competition couldn’t handle it.Haim Bodek, CONTINGENT ETHICS: Portrait of a Philosphies series II, 2014, single channel video, [0:14:20]. (https://vimeo.com/channels/aor)
As the financial engineer, philosopher, and automation critic Elie Ayache points out, however, the scientific paradigm behind quantitative trading and automation hasn’t changed – and thus implicitly refutes Rishi K. Narang’s assertion that “quantitative trading can be defined as the systematic implementation of trading strategies that human beings create through rigorous research.”Rishi K. Narang, Inside the Black Box: The Simple Truth About Quantitative Trading. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015, p. xi. To Ayache, automated trading is not a new scientific method (an achievement he reserves for the volatility smile problem), but a new wave of exploitation within the probability paradigm and its futile scales:
The market is the only place where the qualitative absolute event, the one that is irreducible to measure and scale and probability, finds quantitative expression, in a material medium borne by numbers, or rather prices. The market is quantitative history. One should keep in mind this contradiction in terms: one should remain aware that the historical event is incalculable and unquantifiable because it precedes any scale; and then understand the extraordinary nature of price (and of its medium: the market) as the quantification of that unquantifiability. This is why the market is truly the technology of the future. You have to realize that price is not a number. Quantifying the event (translating it into numbers) is impossible; yet the market is such a translation, precisely in so far as it takes place outside of possibility. “Quantitative history” does not mean that the event is being forced into the mold of numbers. Rather, a quantity, a number of an extraordinary nature, has been found such that history can be quantified.Elie Ayache, The Medium of Contingency, 2015, p. 52.
In a nutshell, for Ayache the market is real, whereas probability is not.Ayache’s insistence on finance as a body constituted by human traders in the trading pit evokes N. Katherine Hayles’ question, “If we can capture the Form of ones and zeros in a nonbiological medium – say, on a computer disk – why do we need the body’s superfluous flesh?”. See Hayles, How we Became Posthuman, p. 13. To his mind, the hard problem of the volatility smile has not been resolved, nor has it been tackled in algorithmic trading on the supposition that the (option) pricing technology (BSM reversed) works.
In the classic form of HFT, algorithmic trading accelerates the exploitation of an old paradigmHow this plays out in financial corporations was shown by Karen Ho in: Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2009. materially embedded in the computer-powered calculative evaluation of massive data sets. Predication machines attempt to evade their unpredictable contingent event by trading in fractions of a second.Knight Capital Group’s loss is an instance of an unpredictable event within the black box itself. On August 1, 2012, the HFT trader lost over 400 million Dollars in 30 minutes due to a technical error, and the firm had to file for bankruptcy. Nanex, who analyzed their trades, commented, “[T]he glitch led to 4 million extra trades in 550 million shares that would not have existed otherwise.” See (http://www.nanex.net/aqck2/3522.html); and (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-08-02/knight-shows-how-to-lose-440-million-in-30-minutes). They reorganize the market to an extraction of price from big data. This performative paradigm exploits a future it doesn’t know and doesn’t need to know as it meets it immediately. The production of risk, a potentially massive concept for complex societies and their needs and desires, complexifies price without producing a present in which it translates back to value. Rather, it produces massive volatilities in the social realm – resolution dissolves to leveraging power in markets that are deemed to operate in consistence with regulations and laws.
Face to face with an increasingly efficient market, however, even those at the forefront of technological innovation run into massive “resistance” – trading a market without utilizable spread is like hitting a wall at full speed. Market-makers operate on the spread to provide liquidity, hedge their own risk, and make profit, whether they are locals or HFT. But with speed at a technological threshold at which high-end competitors cannot exploit against others (see the Bodek quote above), the utopia of neoclassic economics meets its end of time: the realization of perfect efficiency is at the same time the end of the market. But it is evidentially not the end of trading. As always there are some who think and act outside the box. This time, however, it is not quantitative or technological innovation that allows for the exploitation of profits. Increasingly, competitive advantage is only possible by rigging the market in ways to go far beyond the machinations portrayed by books like Dark Pools or Flash Boys. Abusive and collusive behaviors undermine or circumvent regulation (euphemistically called “regulation arbitrage”), market infrastructure, and order-book microstructure, as whistleblower cases and legal settlements have shown.Besides Bodek’s cases, see also, for example: “Whistleblower award for NYSE fine goes to HFT critic,” MarketWatch, March 1, 2016 (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/whistleblower-award-for-nyse-fine-goes-to-hft-critic-2016-03-01); U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, “SEC Charges New York-Based High Frequency Trading Firm …,” 2014-229 [online](https://www.sec.gov/News/PressRelease/Detail/PressRelease/1370543184457); and Victor Golovtchenko, “Dark Pools Settlements to Cost Barclays, Credit Suisse Over $150m,” Finance Magnates, January 2, 2016 (http://www.financemagnates.com/forex/regulation/dark-pools-settlements-to-cost-barclays-credit-suisse-over-150-mln/). Heavily invested intellectually in the old paradigm of probability evaluation and profit making running on survival instinct, capitalist hypercompetition has opened a door towards the dark side of the efficient market in which the law, regulation, and exchanges are part of strategic management. Risk is implemented into the very institutions that were established to govern against it.
Revised excerpts from Gerald Nestler, Flash Renegades. From an Aesthetics to a Politics of Resolution. Algorithmic Finance and the 2010 Flash Crash, 2016 (publication in preparation).
Image series: Gerald Nestler, RESOLUTIONIZATIONS. self-organized | self-regulated | mythological, Photographs of the hedge fund Sang Lucci and of high-resolution visualizations of Flash Crashes (courtesy Nanex LLC), 4 prints, approx. 30 x 50 cm, 2015, the artist and Nanex LLC.