Sunday, June 20, 2010

On image and unfair disadvantages

This is the logo of the "Hebrew Reali School" - a famous Israeli private school, in which I have spent 8 years of my life, my wife and myself are both products of private schools and we sent our daughters also (at some point) to study in this school. Yesterday I spent all evening there, in a ceremony to celebrate my daughter Hadas graduation from junior high (9th grade), she will stay in the same school, but move to a different location for the "upper division". The coordinator of the 9th grade classes in his speech claimed that by learning in that school the children gain advantage over other children for their future, from my experience - this is definitely true. Some people may view it as unfair advantage, but that's life -- the public system provides a low common denominator, and if I can afford getting more than that, I am not ashamed of pursuing it. I admire people that I know who send their children to public schools because of ideology and values , but I don't share their attitude.

Somewhat unrelated --- I read in Marco Sierio's Blog that quoted an article in the Atlantic magazine about the unfairness of using high-frequency-trading, Marco asserts: When this is what the public reads about CEP, then I think we might have a minor image problem.

Some quick comments about Marco's assertion:

  1. I did not find the phrase CEP in the article, it has talked about high-frequency-trading. If my memory does not mislead me, Marco's company has a nice event processing software-as-a-service offering, and its typical applications are not really high-frequency-trading. This is also true for what we do in IBM in this area (there are many applications in many industries), and other companies as well. Algorithmic trading applications were indeed some of the early adopters of event processing technology, and there are some vendors that are still centered around trading applications. However, one of the issues, that is indeed a misconception that exists among some people is the event processing = algorithmic trading, but this is only one of the applications, and there are many others.
  2. Furthermore, there are some other applications that are indeed aimed at the benefit of humanity as a whole, and our event processing grand challenge as noted in the EC FET FLAGSHIP presentation (that we want to realize with the help of government funds) is certainly in that direction.
  3. Now getting back to the unfair advantage, I cannot say that I have deep understanding of the trading issue, so unlike some people who have opinions about everything on earth, I tend not to express opinions about something I don't understand, so I'll leave the discussion to those who understand more and avoid expressing opinions here.
  4. However, I'll write in general about using technology for providing unfair advantage. When I was young, I worked in the IT shop of the Israeli Air-Force, and saw how sophisticated informations systems have shifted the balance of power in organizations, gave one organization advantage over others, and eventually changed the organizational structure and missions. I noted how some people could take advantage of technology in order to advance the organizations they managed, it was fascinating lesson. Was it unfair to the others? certainly, one can think this way; but nothing stopped the others from doing similar things, those who made high priority in investing in technology benefited in more than one way, there is nothing special in that assertion. Event processing technology can certainly provide real-time observations or automated actions in many areas, and one cannot stop the progress of technology.
  5. Again, I don't know if some traders abuse the system, this is a question to regulators, and I have no knowledge and opinion about it -- but it is well known the terrorists have used Email and SMS to coordinate among themselves. Every technology can be abused in some way.

Getting to the beginning of the posting -- I am sending my children to private schools to give them advantage in life; likewise the wise organizations take advantage of sophisticated technologies to get advantage in many areas -- and I still have no opinion about the high-frequency-trading, as I don't know much about it.


woolfel said...

There's a huge difference. Comparing private school to HFT is comparing apples to trains. HFT has a real and global impact on stock price. When HFT systems go in one direction, it can cause a cascade. When that occurs it impacts the market and the rest of the world gets screwed.

Sending one's child to a private school doesn't affect the global economy, nor does it cause wild fluctuations in the stock market. Financial firms should look for an advantage. The problem is that hedge funds in the US aren't regulated and existing regulations aren't enforced properly. Back in the 90's when only a few people did HFT it gave them advantage. Now that more firms are doing it, the advantage is less.

I personally wouldn't work in HFT, since it feels ethically and morally wrong. I'd rather make money providing a service to someone that doesn't depend on "how much can I screw someone else".

Opher Etzion said...

Hi Peter.

I agree that the whole posting talked about topics that are not closely related. As said I don't know enough about HFT to provide an opinion here, so I'll not join the discussion about it. I have made comments on something that I have experienced - getting technology to provide relative benefits in other cases and pointed out that the notion of fairness depends on the viewpoint, this may or may not be relevant for the HFT issue. Also, I am trying to correct the misconception that some people have that event processing equals HFT.