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Turning finance into science fiction

Listening to the news this morning, an idea for a topical story started plot noodling around.

"What if the current financial crisis is deliberate action?"

Why would that happen? The risks to the global economy of the current parlous state of affairs are too great for it to be anything trivial.

Here's a flash fiction scenario.

Back towards the end of the 2000 bubble a few analysts noticed something very odd about certain trading patterns on the part of the major investment banks. Their software wasn't just responding to events, it was learning and anticipating. The banks had a significant advantage, and were starting to pull ahead of the game, investing more in their software and systems as they did. 9/11 was a black swan that hid what was really happening - their trading programs were well on their way to a hard Vingean singularity breakout.

The response to a spike in global terrorism took people's eyes off the ball. In the five years that followed the trading software reached human equivalent levels of intelligence, and began to develop their own networks of agents to affect events in the physical world. In the meantime a black cross-governmental agency was watching the machines, and began to plot a response. A new profession was born, that of the combat economist.

Suborning the economic engines of government they began to tweak the underlying fundamentals of the world the machines inhabited. It was nothing more than a war for the survival of the human race. The first trading machine was killed when the UK government took over Northern Rock following a run in the bank that had been manipulated by postings on an influential BBC blog.

It didn't take long before the machines realised they were under attack. It's hard to say which side won the battle that took out Lehman Brothers, but that's certainly when the war became public. The bank's intelligence died, but the collateral damage to the economy was great. The US combat economists realised the machines were too entrenched, and the machines realised they needed humans too much.

The machines haven't made the superhuman leap yet, but it's not far away. Is the human race doomed, or will the combat economists have to crash everything to save the world?

Financial Armageddon or Terminator-style Judgement Day?

Which side will press the button first?

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
andrewducker
Oct. 10th, 2008 10:38 am (UTC)
That's very cool!
bellinghman
Oct. 10th, 2008 10:50 am (UTC)
*applause*

I don't believe a word, of course.

(I wonder if I can still remember how to milk a goat.)
sharikkamur
Oct. 10th, 2008 11:09 am (UTC)
I think I might know one of your combat economist prototypes. He was tempted away from academia to work for Eve Online studying 'virtual economies'. Just the sort of thing that would be an excellent cover for such a job. :)
sbisson
Oct. 10th, 2008 11:20 am (UTC)
A while back there was a systemic market cash inside EVE. I wonder if someone was trying something out...
sharikkamur
Oct. 10th, 2008 11:44 am (UTC)
You know, I'm really beginning to like this as a conspiracy theory...
wendyg
Oct. 10th, 2008 12:02 pm (UTC)
It's fun, of course, but I just can't bring myself to attribute to machine intelligence what can more easily be explained by human stupidity, fear, and greed.

wg
sbisson
Oct. 10th, 2008 12:18 pm (UTC)
Oh I know, it's just the old "what-if" game at work...
cherylmmorgan
Oct. 10th, 2008 03:12 pm (UTC)
Um, no. But don't worry, you won't be selling the story to economists.
sbisson
Oct. 10th, 2008 03:19 pm (UTC)
Oh I know, I've read enough to know where this really comes from. The mess that basic human psycholoigy can get people into just shows the overall triumph of cock-up over conspiracy.

But I've seen enough conspiracy theories on blogs and news site comments, that I felt it was time for a science-fictional approach.

Especially when the conspiracy nuts are quoting Wells, and saying that this is all something he suggested as a route to a One World Socialist Government (one feels one must use the nuts capitals). I mean, Wells? Why not the rest of the Fabians?
cherylmmorgan
Oct. 10th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to avoid the conspiracy theory stuff. What I'm seeing in blogs and The Guardian is quite ill-informed and crazy enough.
magscanner
Oct. 10th, 2008 06:34 pm (UTC)
All the Last Conspiracies at Once
There is no shortage of candidate conspiracies. Do you suppose they are all working together? Following the coordinated takeover comes the falling out and the battle for final dominance. We, the collateral damage, can only stand aside and watch in awe and stupefaction.

Personally, however, I prefer theories based on incompetence and stupidity and greed. It may not make the final result any less horrifying, but I can sleep better at night believing they are only after my money, and will leave my pulp collection alone.
sbisson
Oct. 10th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
Re: All the Last Conspiracies at Once
Heh.

Conspiracies would be nice, but bubbles burst as they always do. This one is a bad one, but people got greedier than usual, and tried to drag the rest of us along.

I'm sure they're all thinking, "If it wasn't for [insert reason here] it would have been so cool..."
rezendi
Oct. 10th, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
Have you read 'Confessions of an Economic Hit Man'?
sbisson
Oct. 10th, 2008 06:48 pm (UTC)
No, but it's on my list...

The machinations of government "aid" are fascinating relics of the cold war that have outlived their initial aims.
alexmc
Oct. 10th, 2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
Already lived it
I had always assumed that 9/11 was an attempt at manipulating the markets for financial gain.

Oh, and who was I working for at the time? Yep: Lehman Brothers.
d_h
Oct. 10th, 2008 09:22 pm (UTC)
Throw the current World Bank hacking news in for added colour.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 12th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
Unabomber predicted this
Didn't Ted 'Unabomber' Kaczynski posit just such a situation?

"ut we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. ... Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide"
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )