Shing Tat Chung
A Superstitious Fund
Royal College of Art
A Superstitious Fund
£4828.88 was invested by 144 investors. After the one year ends, the value of the fund will be distributed back accordingly. A Performance board tracks the investment value, displaying a live value of the fund.
One of the main strengths of this project is its mix of technical realism and cultural fiction. It is fully functional and has been happily trading for the last year, but it belongs somewhere else, a world where algorithms are superstitious and rationality may not always be best option.
Something that we identify as a strength in Speculative Design is the freedom it offers for generating extreme scenarios and we feel that it is at its best when these scenarios are played back through our current cultural landscape, providing an opportunity to assess their impact in society.
A Superstitious Fund
The Superstitious Fund is an investment fund that is run by a Superstitious Autonomous Algorithm. For one year, beginning on June 1st 2012, the robot will trade purely on superstitious beliefs. For example it will have the fear of the number 13 and a solar eclipse. The robot also creates its own superstitious logic, unlucky and unlucky values that it then acts upon.
£4828.88 was invested by 144 investors. After the one year ends, the value of the fund will be distributed back accordingly. A Performance board tracks the investment value, displaying a live value of the fund.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The Project refers to two contexts: Superstitions and financial algorithmic-trading. The aim of the project was to raise a platform for discussion around the two contemporary issues. To establish research that sets the context and produce work as a reaction.
We are very insistent that we are rational biengs living in a scientific world. However we actually believe in ghosts and astrology four times more than in the fifties. In times of uncertainty we begin to reveal more signs of irrationality and superstitions. This could be on a personal level, such as proffessions - gamblers etc. Or we could zoom out and look at whats happening with the economic and political uncertainties and how this results in irrationality in culture and society. If we are more irrational than we think we are, and that this trend increases, what happens when the current logic starts to twist and turn and be replaced with a alternate, illogical logic?
The world is being shaped around invisible technologies. Looking at financial trading algorithms in particular, we are seeing a rise in 'black box' trading. Year by year markets are becoming more automated. This new algorithmic-centred market led to the death of the trading-pits. Traders are now coming from computer science backgrounds. We've had numerous events that have clause blips in the market, the flash crash and the Knight castrophy. So whilst the markets are becoming more automated are we to expect more and unusual events that occur in an unknown environment.
It was important to provide a neutral point of view. I did not intend to make fun of superstitions nor did I intend to say they are right. On the other hand with the algorithms, the intent was to highlight on the issue and to comment on what is happening now. To do this, my intent was to create a transparent fund, a non profit one that interacted with the audience directly. The coding was all open source and the behaviour details all available.
The project speculated on a particular trend, where we are becoming more superstitious and that the markets become more automated. However the aim was not to tell a story or just to imagine but to actually offer a glimpse into this by making it real and live.
The algorithm offered an alternative perspective on how technology can operate, can and will they behave with human characteristics? We have uncanny robots that resemble our appearance to give us a sense of assurance - so would robots behaving in similar fashion do the same thing?
The intent of the fund was to tell a story about us and our human behaviour. Looking at what is already here, today. How irrationalities affect the world around us and extrapolating my research and trend to create a scenario where our logic is overridden by a superstitious one.
One of an additional intent was to create the first superstitions created by technology and not by humans - 'Technosititons'.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
To establish the context and premise - research was first done around superstitions. Looking at how and why we are superstitious, our behaviours and human instincts. Alot was also done around case studies, examples already out there in society, culture and in the infrastructure that show the results of how irrationalities alters logic in systems. One good example of this is the Feng Shui buildings in China - huge towers that are built incorporating a large hole in the middle. All this research and case studies was uploaded onto a blog page - http://superstitiousthoughts.com. Whilst a lot of time was spent on finding example of our irrationalities, it was also important to understand superstition as a behaviour in its most basic form, our most primitive instinct. How, why and when do we become more superstitious or less. (one example of research: we become more superstitious in times of uncertainty. In hong Kong - lucky car plates rise in value when there is a recession). By establishing the current trend, are we becoming more superstitious and irrational?
The other half of the process and research centered around algorithms. Firstly, was it possible that the public could implement is own trading algorithm into the market. What was the current state of algorithmic use in the markets too? This was a difficult journey that often led to dead ends. Research and conversations had to be carried out to establish a clear and practical route that enabled the implementation of this technology. This journey started to change the outcome of the algorithm, what it would do in the market and how. I then worked with a trading programmer to define the rules and all the additional coding that was required. I tested the algorithm, but not overly as it was hugely important to keep the one year experiment as unknown as possible.
In the process of creating the fund, the two most important proccesses where talking to financial proffessionals and trading algorithm programmers. There are many different types of trading, shares, spread betting, cfds - it was my job to understand these and what was most logical to use. Whilst the algorithm itself behaves on a set of superstitious rules - it was also important to implement 'normal' trading rules - stop losses, take profits etc. This was all put in place to ensure that the experiment wouldn't end in one day.
A large part of the project was creating the Fund facade - talking to investors, creating brochures and certificates. I had to draw up a legal contract with the advice of a lawyer to protect myself.
The whole process became the journey of creating the fund, which included visiting a celebrity fortune teller in the Isle of Wight to calculate the launch date of the robot. All this was recorded in a book 'How I created a fund… a superstitious one'.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The aim is to use design to talk about the issues at hand, and get a diverse audience to look at and engage with these themes. The project provides a unique perspective on superstition and technology whilst providing deeper research to allow the audience to do so.
Within the research there are studies revolving around superstition that is eye opening, and at the same time - hugely valuable to some. For example a Belgium airline was grounded for two weeks because its logo had 13 spots. A house number 13 will devalue your house by £7511. In Taiwan, their lucky number is 168 - research has shown that consumers will pay more for a product if it featured these numbers.
In today's climate, we have a strong opinion on financial markets, bankers, traders etc - yet most of know nothing about how the market operates, let alone anything about trading algorithms. By creating a transparent fund, the value was to allow both the investors and the audience a glimpse into the process of the fund and trading. By experiencing the role of algorithms, the audience can be proposed with the question - what happens when you take this technology outside a financial system and what invisible technologies are at play in our daily lives and in the future?
However many subcatorgries evolve from the creation of the fund. For example, A bank has registered their interest on their research on how a random investing algorithm compares to a 'rational' algorithm.6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?