Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sloppy Play

By now most people have heard that the Dow Jones Industrial Average suddenly plummeted 1,000 points on Thursday of last week. While the exact cause of the sudden drop remains mysterious, many are attributing it to a computer error. With more than 60% of the trading that takes place in this country now occurring on computers, this may not be entirely surprising.

Computer-based trading relies on high-tech algorithms that can buy and sell without human intervention. But in this case, many are also saying that computers weren't entirely to blame. Apparently a single human error set off a chain reaction of events that lead computers around the world to start selling before anyone could intervene.

In a world with a bad case of the jitters caused by economic downturns and failed Time Square bombings, it's easy to see how such events could have lead to a bigger drop and more widespread economic panic that would have snowballed. And that's a frightening thing to consider.

I like to think of it being like a bad pass in soccer. A bad pass on it's own may do little more than slow down a team's attack. However if such a pass is intercepted it can lead to a counterattack and in a worse case scenario, a goal for the opposition.

Human errors and computer glitches can be like the bad passes of the modern world. Mostly they are relatively harmless. But then there are other times when they get out of hand and then they are not.

Thursday's plummet, if indeed it was computer related, was like making a bad pass, loosing possession of the ball and then regaining it. What I mean to say is that things may not have gotten quite as bad as they could have. But sloppy play is sloppy play. And there's no room for that in the big leagues.

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