The Supercomputers of Wall Street: Friend or Foe?

By Alex Woodie

July 30, 2013

The face of Wall Street has changed significantly over the last decade. Where Gordon Gecko-types once dominated exchanges, today’s Wall Street is run by quantitative analysts who write the algorithms that run on the supercomputers that make the actual trades, using super high speed network connections to exchanges. While the new system has unquestionably enriched some, the question becomes: Has it benefited the rest of us? 

An informative article in The Telegraph paints a fascinating picture of how machine-based trading and high frequency trading (HFT) is changing Wall Street. From the increase in short-term volatility and propensity for “flash crashes” to harnessing scientific genius away from traditional fields and using “quants” to pursue of ever-bigger profits, the computer and network arms race has already had an irreconcilable impact on the culture of Wall Street.

Computers today already initiate about 70 percent of the buy and sell transactions on Wall Street, according to The Telegraph’s story. It’s common to have more trades executed in a single day than all of the trades over a 10-year space several decades ago.

The fact is, machine based trading is a requirement, because humans could never initiate trades at the speeds and volume that today’s HFT operations need to make a profit. One could have a reasonable discussion on the merits of long-term, buy-and-hold investing. But in the world of HFT, holding an asset for just few milliseconds too long can mean the difference between booking a million dollar profit or a million dollar loss.

When firms spend tens of millions of dollars are spent laying super-fast network connections between major trading hubs–like the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the New York Stock Exchange, and the London Stock Exchange–expressly for the purpose of being able to execute transactions a few thousands of a millisecond quicker than competitors, you know that the trading game has changed substantially.

HFT and machine-based trading have combined to generate billions in profits for the firms who do it best. But things don’t always work out as planned. Exhibit A is the “flash crash” that took place on May 6, 2010.

According to The Telegraph’s story, the volume of trades that day overwhelmed the New York Stock Exchange online trading section. When the NYSE’s online trading system froze, the supercomputers of Wall Street firms initiated sell orders, and in just a few minutes, more than $1 trillion in value on the NYSE vanished. Then, just as quickly as it was lost, the exchange regained the value. 

This Flash Crash served as a wake-up call to some HFT practitioners. “None of us knew what to do or what would happen next,” The Telegraph quotes Dave Lauer, a quant who was working on a HFT desk that day, as saying. “I remember thinking, ‘How will I explain to my future child what I do for a living?'” Lauer quit his job and later spoke against the merits of HFT in a U.S. Senate committee hearing on the event. 

Not surprising, traditionalists do not like what the computers and HFT have done to Wall Street. Warren Buffett’s business partner, Charlie Munger, described HFT as “basically evil.” “I think it is very stupid to allow a system to evolve where half of the trading is a bunch of short-term people trying to get information one millionth of a nanosecond ahead of somebody else,” The Telegraph quoted Munger as saying. “It’s legalised front-running.”

While the system has benefited quants, who can earn more than $1 million per year, some of them question whether their genius couldn’t be better utilized for the benefit of society. One of them is Simon Jones, a 36-year who The Telegraph identified as running the quants desk of a major bank up until a few months ago.

“My bank employed the brightest engineers, chemists, and scientists, and we were all working together to get richer,” The Telegraph quoted Jones as saying. “The chemical and physics and health industries are worse off because of what we do because I tell you this: if there was a pay bonus structure similar to what we had in the city for curing cancer, we’d have found a cure for cancer.”

Related Articles

Keeneland Project Helps Researchers Analyze Cancer Tumors

Going Ballistic: Scientists Take on Spacecraft, Body Armor With Supercomputers at Their Side

Big Data’s Dark Side

 

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penalties to HPC applications. Even as these patches are rolled o Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Intel Touts Silicon Spin Qubits for Quantum Computing

February 14, 2018

Debate around what makes a good qubit and how best to manufacture them is a sprawling topic. There are many insistent voices favoring one or another approach. Referencing a paper published today in Nature, Intel has offe Read more…

By John Russell

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Safeguard Your HPC Environment with the World’s Most Secure Industry Standard Servers

Today’s organizations operate in an environment with ever-evolving threats, and in order to protect themselves they must continuously bolster their security strategy. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Intel® are addressing modern security challenges with the world’s most secure industry standard servers powered by the latest generation of Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. Read more…

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended to make it easier, faster and cheaper to train and run machi Read more…

By Doug Black

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penal Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Food Industry’s Next Journey — from Mars to Exascale

February 12, 2018

Global food producer and one of the world's leading chocolate companies Mars Inc. has a unique perspective on the impact that exascale computing will have on the food industry. Read more…

By Scott Gibson, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Singularity HPC Container Start-Up – Sylabs – Emerges from Stealth

February 8, 2018

The driving force behind Singularity, the popular HPC container technology, is bringing the open source platform to the enterprise with the launch of a new vent Read more…

By George Leopold

Dell EMC Debuts PowerEdge Servers with AMD EPYC Chips

February 6, 2018

AMD notched another EPYC processor win today with Dell EMC’s introduction of three PowerEdge servers (R6415, R7415, and R7425) based on the EPYC 7000-series p Read more…

By John Russell

‘Next Generation’ Universe Simulation Is Most Advanced Yet

February 5, 2018

The research group that gave us the most detailed time-lapse simulation of the universe’s evolution in 2014, spanning 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution, is back in the spotlight with an even more advanced cosmological model that is providing new insights into how black holes influence the distribution of dark matter, how heavy elements are produced and distributed, and where magnetic fields originate. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

SC17: Singularity Preps Version 3.0, Nears 1M Containers Served Daily

November 1, 2017

Just a few months ago about half a million jobs were being run daily using Singularity containers, the LBNL-founded container platform intended for HPC. That wa Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This