Will computers replace human intelligence in finance?

Prof Shiller does not think so.

He says this vision of financial singularity where computers shall replace a fund manager and markets become super efficient is unlikely to happen:

There is a long-recognized problem with such perfect markets: No one would want to expend any effort to figure out what oscillations in prices mean for the future. Thirty-five years ago, in their classic paper, “On the Impossibility of Informationally Efficient Markets,” Sanford Grossman and Joseph Stiglitz presented this problem as a paradox: Perfectly efficient markets require the effort of smart money to make them so; but if markets were perfect, smart money would give up trying.

The Grossman-Stiglitz conundrum seems less compelling in the financial singularity if we can imagine that computers direct all the investment decisions. Although alpha may be vanishingly small, it still represents enough profit to keep the computers running.

But the real problem with this vision of financial singularity is not the Grossman-Stiglitz conundrum; it is that real-world markets are nowhere close to it. Computer enthusiasts are excited by things like the blockchain used by Bitcoin (covered on an education website called Singularity University, in a section dramatically titled Exponential Finance). But the futurists’ financial world bears no resemblance to today’s financial world. After all, the financial singularity implies that all prices would be based on such things as optimally projected future corporate profits and the correlation of profits with expected technological innovations and long-term demographic changes. But the smart money hardly ever talks in such ethereal terms.

In this context, it is difficult not to think of China’s recent stock-market plunge. News accounts depict hordes of emotional people trading on hunch and superstition. That looks a lot more like reality than all the talk of impending financial singularity.

Markets are about stories:

Markets seem to be driven by stories, as I emphasize in my book Irrational Exuberance. There are stories of great new eras and of looming depressions. There are fundamental stories about technology and declining resources. And there are stories about politics and bizarre conspiracies.  No one knows if these stories are true, but they take on a life of their own. Sometimes they go viral. When one has a heart-to-heart talk with many seemingly rational people, they turn out to have crazy theories. These people influence markets, because all other investors must reckon with them; and their craziness is not going away anytime soon.

Maybe Buffett’s past investing style can be captured in a trading algorithm today. But that does not necessarily detract from his genius. Indeed, the true source of his success may consist in his understanding of when to abandon one method and devise another.

The idea of financial singularity may seem inspiring; but it is no less illusory than the rational Utopia that inspired generations of central planners. Human judgment, good and bad, will drive investment decisions and financial-market outcomes for the rest of our lives and beyond.

Hmm… time will tell..

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