Monday, 31 October 2016

Is it the machine or the input?

THE US election would be pure comedy genius if it didn’t involve handing the winner the keys to a huge global arsenal of nuclear weapons. To be honest, I glazed over listening to the intricacies of who did what in the Clinton camp as the detail transcends the boundary of concern. Just as the detail of which artery a sadistic murderer cut first is beyond my concern, as I have already decided I wouldn’t be inviting them round for dinner.

The whole idea that democracy results in choosing between Trump and Clinton should really demand examining the process of how we got here. Potentially knocking down the old structure and starting afresh. US democracy is as fit for purpose as a large banks' IT platforms. At least the banks have realised the need to evolve.

In the depths of history when I was a junior trainee probationary assistant dealer (that role would have been titled ‘director’ at a US bank) we had to plug data into a computer each day to work out the associated costs of lending and these were added to client borrowing rates. Because this was a menial task it was given to the lowest ranking staff, whose turnover was pretty quick. Now, the computer itself was impressive, it had a nice green screen and stood alone in a different room. Its awe-inspiringness meant that its output was never questioned. Which meant that the whole system was never challenged. This was a problem because, though the output was valid, the input was not.

As each new junior inputer was shown the ropes, the instructions passed down from their predecessor changed slightly, Only slightly, but an important sightly. The original instructions were to find the values of the input variables and input them. However, at some point the instruction had been passed down that you just input these numbers. From then on variance in the input numbers ceased and hence the output became fixed too. For months the same numbers were input as that was what the juniors had been told to input and what they told their successors to input. So out came the same answer. When it did finally come to light months later, via an accountant in a distant part of the bank, the bank had lost a fair chunk of change.

But the point of the story is that this was a case of thinking the system is infallible but completely missing the human input error. The shininess and the complexity of the machine had everyone believing that the system was pretty foolproof. Which is exactly what we have with the US elections. Though the machine may be huge, complex and exceedingly expensive, someone needs to stand up and question how the output can be so at variance from what should logically be expected. Now, either the machine is broken, or the operators have been feeding in the same garbage for so many years they have forgotten the purpose of the process.

The US has many very clever people living there and I wonder how it can be that they don’t stop the process or put themselves forward as inputs. But I think I know the answer. For the same reason that a real expert doesn’t bother appearing on the BBC News, instead leaving the BBC to interview other journalists or Diane Abbott. There is no upside.

But we are where we are and our only hope is that whoever ends up with the nuke codes doesn't either use them to open up new coal seams in Pennsylvania or use them as passwords to their private online email account, the one (sorry I thought it meant "I’m totally email secure, are you”?). It’s still going to be a close call on the night and I will probably buy some USD/MXN as that is the FX Trump-o-meter.

Meanwhile, in the UK someone has decided that Carney must go because his forecasts on the immediate outcome to Brexit have been off vs 'the now'. Oh come on now! If we were to fire or lock up every economist or strategist who had made a booboo with their call, the LSE might as well be teaching gun crime. I haven’t been a fan of Carney’s but attacking him now, before things do get rougher with Brexit, is nuts. Mind you, if he does go could we replace him with Guy Debelle please? Similarly from a commonwealth country (Deputy Governor of the RBA) but brilliant. Probably brilliant enough to run a mile if offered the post.

That’s it for now. Trade ideas? Nah, no upside.


JohnL said...

Typical programmer jargon. ....garbage in garbage out.

Trump is a complete wack job, however his instability is such that many nations will give pause to many actions because they will not be sure of his reaction, as mentioned codes will influence that.

Being a nafa naubour I am somewhat fearful of the psychosis.

JohnL said...

**nafta neighbor**

Nic said...

Are we talking about Libor again?

coolstorybro said...

Trump 2016.