I felt compelled to reflect back on a posting I wrote in March 2006 about trading on Wall Street. With the wild swings in the market experienced last week, one of the key questions seems clearly to be how long does it take for regulatory changes to get in sync with market and technological changes? The trading irregularities that occurred are viewed with alarm by many. Should we be shocked that such a think could have happened? I don’t think so. Some will say that highly automated trading should not be allowed. In fact legislation was lintroduced to ban it. Maybe each trade should be artificially restricted to take X minutes or seconds or no trade can exceed X shares in Y minutes? Maybe trades should be approved by the government? Maybe trades should be on paper? Reminds me of the Luddites trying to destroy mechanized looms and many in the know expressing considerable resistance toward Johann Gutenberg’s press.
Maybe what we need is more “Net Attitude“. What we are being confronted with is not a technical problem and it is not a regulatory problem. It is a vision problem. Leaders not seeing and embracing technology. Advances in technology can not be stopped — they have to be embraced, understood, and planned for. I would not expect leaders in the congress or regulatory bodies to be techno geeks but I would expect them to be tech aware and to bring in the right experts to help them see a vision of what is ahead and to thereby enable the leaders to lead in a more progressive fashion and not hide behind political statements that may appeal to various niches. Unfortunately, we are seeing time after time that leaders in key places do not seem to have a clue as to what is happening or is possible in the technological world.
The No Fly List is an even more sobering and dramatic example. The TSA told the airlines that when a high priority name is added to the list the airlines have to look at the list within 24 hours. Twenty-four hours? After the recent terrorist act they reduced it to two hours. Two hours? Amazon can process your order or banks can move your money in fractions of a second but a potentially life-threatening addition to an important list needs two hours to be communicated? Have they heard of email or text messages or tweets? This lack of awareness and technical thinking combined with their staffs leaking to the press an analysis of what the terrorist did wrong and thereby providing a checklist for how to do better next time does not make one comfortable about our security in the future.
One more example makes the point. A senior political leader being interviewed this morning was asked the following. When a person buys a ticket a one way ticket to Pakistan a few hours before the flight and pays for it with cash should that send up a red flag? The politican said “I don’t know if that can be done”. I am sure he doesn’t know what a tweet is either.