Normalisation of Deviance

July 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

Algorithmic Trading or High Frequency Trading or Black Box Trading according to a new report by the British Government’s Office for Science, Foresight, is set to replace Human Trading in the global stock markets. This form of trading is undertaken through decisions made by computers, primarily based upon large volumes of information/data related to previous market behaviour. In 2007, 50% of all equity trading in the United States was undertaken via algorithms and at present, this is 75%. In Europe, it is presently 40%.

The Future of Computer Trading in Financial Markets (Foresight, Goverment Office for Science, UK 2012)(cover)

In the working paper, titled, The Future of Computer Trading in Financial Markets (the full report is due at the end of 2012), the research project outlines the benefits and costs of such processes. The authors describes how in a decade, algorithms will be able to essentially self evolve through their ability to ‘experience’ i.e. building upon their previous market experiences and therefore requiring no human intervention. However, they do warn, that within such a framework, there exists the potential for what they describe as ‘instability’ through the Normalisation of Deviance which they identify as when ‘unexpected and risky events come to be seen as ever more normal (eg. extremely rapid crashes), until a disaster occurs’

We’re running through the United States with dynamite and rock saws so that an algorithm can close the deal three microseconds faster, all for a communications framework that no human will ever know; that’s a kind of manifest destiny.

The above words by Kevin Slavin were made in relation to the present construction of a high-speed fibre-optic cable between Chicago and New York to facilitate black box trading and comes from his TED talk titled, How Algorithms Shape Our World. Addressing some of the thematics outlined in the Foresight working paper. Slavin, a designer and consultant in the field of technology, argues, ‘that we’re living in a world designed for, and increasingly controlled by, algorithms’, and through the course of his presentation shows ‘how these complex computer programs determine espionage tactics, stock prices, movie scripts, and architecture’. Critically, Slavin warns how ‘we are writing code we can’t understand, with implications we can’t control’.

THE MARKET a project by Mark Curran

January 9, 2012 § 8 Comments

In the continuing evolutionary aftermath of the global economic collapse and absence of sustained practice-led research engagement with the central locus of this event, the ethnographically informed, multi-sited, transnational project, THE MARKET (2010-), builds upon the cycle of long-term research projects, beginning in 1998, by practice-led researcher and educator, Mark Curran.

THE MARKET (installation image) Belfast Exposed 2013

THE MARKET (installation image) Belfast Exposed 2013

Beginning with SOUTHERN CROSS (Gallery of Photography/Cornerhouse 2002) which surveyed the spaces of development and finance of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ Irish Republic between 1999 and 2001, followed by  The Breathing Factory (Edition Braus/Belfast Exposed/Gallery of Photography 2006) and subject of his practice-led PhD, sited in a multinational complex in Leixlip in the East of Ireland, the project addressed the role and representation of labour, global labour practices and fragile nature of globalised industrial space. Ausschnitte aus EDEN/Extracts from EDEN (Arts Council of Ireland, 2011) focused upon a declining industrial and coalmining region in the former East Germany, an area which prophetically evidenced the massive impact regarding the unevenness of development inherent through the functioning of neoliberal globalisation. All projects are intended to demonstrate a continuing and sustained engagement addressing the predatory impact of global capital.

Critically, the ongoing project, THE MARKET, which began in 2010, seeks to access those sites, which all of the other project work to date has also been decisively defined, spaces where literally and metaphorically, futures are speculated upon – the global markets – and to explore, survey and excavate focusing upon their operating functioning and how this is reflected in for example, language, architectural understandings and centrally, the individuals who inhabit, dwell and labour within these global financial spheres. Conceptually pivotal and mindful of technological evolution with specific reference to the role and functioning of algorithms, has been a desire to both make visible an understanding of such sites and to explore the interconnectedness of such markets. Therefore, multi-sited access has been sought to survey various global locations, including sites in Dublin, London, Frankfurt, Addis Ababa and Mumbai. Extended stays and re-visits have been undertaken in each location to facilitate further research regarding the site, address access, establish contacts and develop relationships with individuals as key collaborators and informants of the project.

As demonstrated in Curran’s previous projects, the cross-disciplinary interventions have included an ethnographic understanding in the collaborative and multi-vocal application of media in the form of photography, audio-digital video, soundscape and the collation of verbal testimony. The intention for THE MARKET has been to afford process-led undertakings over the course of its construction, extending to site-specific interventions, web presence and forums around the project installations incorporating interested parties thereby facilitating the opening up of discursive spaces around the central thematic.

The anthropologist, Karen Ho’s central argument is that Wall Street investment bankers reshape corporate America in their own image, and through the construction of the market, result in the manufacture of crises while simultaneously, ‘assuring its rescue’ (2009: 323). In this, as she defines, ‘economy of appearances’, Ho outlines operating structures, the significance regarding ‘pedigree’, citizen complicity and the critical role of fear in this ‘culture of liquidity’ (ibid.)’ Ho, K. (2009) Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street New York: New York University.

In the financial markets, there is a natural predatory instinct that is hard to control (former trader and author, Micheal Lewis, BBC World Service, 9 May 2010)

The video shows a taped up plastic curtain inside the factory, one that seems to be installed for blocking the artist from viewing production equipment and process. Although we cannot see, there seems to be a working (breathing) machine inside the curtain as it, almost unnoticeably, inflates and deflates repetitiously. In fact, the video seems to summate what the audience experiences in the exhibition. The camera made its way inside the factory, but it cannot tell us what the employees actually do or what they produce. We are only allowed to hear the breathe of the factory. This is analogous to today’s globalised economy and financial markets. For many of us, it is almost unfathomable to understand how they operate. We are left outside of a curtain, inside of which a giant machine breathes intermittently. (from Spectators of the Same Story: Economy, Technology, Photography, Jung Joon Lee, Review of The Breathing Factory: A Project by Mark Curran, DePaul Art Museum (DPAM), Chicago January-March 2010, CAMERAta, Seoul, Korea, May 2010)

Keywords Global Capital, Ethnography, Photography, Speculation, Transnational, Vulnerable, Fieldwork, Precarity, Testimony, Cross-disciplinary, Labour, Witness, Reflexive, Installation, Montage, Multivocality, Access, Technology, Algorithms, Visual Art, Futures

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