Nasdaq Flash Freeze: Things That Work in New Ways Break in New Ways

The surprising thing is that we haven't seen more strange outages.
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When the bug strikes

We don't know a lot about the technical problem that shut the NASDAQ stock exchange down for three hours today. 

As with the recent Amazon or Google outages, the most likely scenario is that some bug buried in zillions of lines of code caused some cascading failure. But hell, maybe it was something weird (like squirrels). Understanding the hows and whys of these  systems isn't easy from the outside. 

During 2010, when the markets experienced a "flash crash," a whole SEC investigation dug in and found a firm's algorithm had made a simple mistake. And that, for whatever set of contingent reasons that day, set off a panic. Why that day? Why that magnitude of effect? It's very hard to know. 

What we can say is that when things work in new ways, they break in new ways. And that's a theme that's worth obsessing over.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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