Dow Crash: Is It An Error? Whose Error?










“To err is human, but to really foul things up, you need a computer,”
goes the old joke. But on Thursday, that is apparently what happened as
the Dow Jones Industrial Average recorded its biggest intra-day plunge
in its history. While the crash was blamed on a “technical glitch” no
one has been able to explain what exactly was the glitch.

What has been reported by most of the financial press is that shares in
Procter and Gamble (P&G) fell from $61.56 a share to $39.37 a
share and then quickly bounced back again. That set off panic in a
market, already concerned about the  Greek crisis, which in
turn led to the crash.

The only consensus seems to be  that there was some error at a
trader’s end which led to the crash. The trader has since been
identified as Citogroup by some reports.

But there has been no explanation of what exactly happened. A CNBC
report, citing a few sources, speculated that a trader had reportedly
entered a “b” for billion instead of an “m” for million in a trade
involving Procter and Gamble, which led to the sell-off phase.

However, that does not explain how management consulting and IT
services
firm Accenture’s stock fell from more than $41 at 2.47 pm to one cent
by 2.48. “Did the demand for consulting services globally dropped that
drastically in that one minute?” quipped a blogger

Jokes apart, what it proves is that the general assumption that it
happened because of a single human error is not true. If the mistake
happened with P&G stock, as the company has also clarified,
what explains the drop of Accenture?

Is it then multiple human errors. It may well be. That conclusion is a
possibility and is far more comforting. AS David Andrews, the CEO of Xchanging,
world’s No 1 BPO
firm, that is
into serving the securities industries in Europe says, “I always
thought a four eyes approach is a good way of checking!”

But with all its logic and comfort, the human error theory 
may not be true. And that means just one thing: there was a ‘real’
technical error or a ‘systems error’. That is a very discomforting
thought and I am sure the technology guys would not like that
probability.

But to use Holmeian language, once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. Will the tech fraternity come forward to prove that it was indeed a human error and not a systems error

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