Counterparties: Revenge of the machines

August 31, 2012

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We might not have reached Skynet-like levels of disaster, but stories of technology biting back continue to pile up. Reuters’ Jessica Toonkel, Lauren Tara LaCapra and Ashley Lau write that a group of Morgan Stanley advisers, including four who manage a total of $47 billion, may leave the company because “widespread technology problems have made it very difficult for them to do their jobs”.

It’s not just the financial workplace, the machines have taken over the stock market, and when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong – to the tune of $10 million in losses, every minute for 45 minutes. Technology companies themselves aren’t immune: Facebook’s IPO was delayed by faulty Nasdaq software that then caused buy and sell orders to go unfilled, while trade cancellations were ignored.

Even the now-mundane technology of email is a source of existential risk, as tech writer Mat Honan recently experienced. Hackers used shockingly lax password recovery procedures to gain access to Honan’s Gmail and Mac mail accounts and proceeded to wipe his entire digital life completely and irretrievably clean.

Or take the case of Aviva, the UK’s second-largest insurer. It intended to fire a single employee. Instead, it mistakenly fired all 1,300 employees of its asset management unit by email, demanding that they “hand over company property and security passes on their way out of the building, and submit all electronic passwords”.

Things are so bad that for a certain type of technophile, Betabeat thinks relinquishing email is the new titillating fantasy. But don’t try too hard to escape: if you’re not on Facebook, you’re probably a psychopath. – Ben Walsh

On to today’s links:

New Normal
The US economy is recovering by adding mostly low-paying jobs – NYT

Primary Sources
The full text of Ben Bernanke’s Jackson Hole speech – Federal Reserve

Bernanke’s speech: “defensive … on the back foot, trying to justify past and future actions against critics on all sides” – Reuters

Plutocracy Now
Panic rooms, gun safes and machine-gun-proof doors are all the rage with London’s wealthy expats – Reuters
World’s richest woman says the poor should stop complaining and work harder – LAT

Financial Arcana
Investors think twice, decide Bob Dylan bonds aren’t all right – FT

JPMorgan rejected 4,000 of the 7,000 stocks Knight tried to submit as collateral – WSJ

It’s Academic
Stop the dishonesty, this is politics! 125 Harvard students may have cheated in “Intro to Congress” class – Outside the Beltway

All of a sudden, big banks are protesting too much – Simon Johnson

Building the world’s tallest building: a sure sign of a construction bubble – FT


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