Rome, April 8, 2016
Semicircle. Half of a circle. Uncompleted, such as the presence of the students in the room. They are sitting in an asymmetrical, untidy manner. On the contrary, I was the first to arrive and I sit in the central seat of the last row, ten seats to the right and ten to the left. My classmates are different from me, they are messy. They do not take any notice of what is going on: in this classroom of the Department of Mathematics, in the boulevard of the Sapienza University. Or in the outside world.
About fifteen meters away, her gentle shoulders. Thin and straight, waiting for something. She cannot see that I am watching her from here. Nevertheless, I am hiding behind the laptop. Just to make sure she doesn’t see me. I worry too much considering that I am a 21-years-old boy. Actually it is not necessary to hide. She has never turned around since she arrived. She didn’t take any notice of me. She did however notice the dishevelled guy. The one who took a seat in her row and is now looking at her. The one who dressed strange in order to be noticed.
“Is there any relationship between passion and calculation? Can we predict passion-driven behaviours through models?” The Professor’s voice is deep. It is not weary; it’s a forty-five years old man’s voice. It resonates from his throat, left exposed by the open shirt below the open jacket. He is wearing jeans, which donate him a casual look.
His voice reflects his self-confidence, also when he asks questions: “Can we develop an algorithm to predict market trends through the analysis of large volumes of information? Or can we imagine an artificial intelligence, able to learn from its own mistakes and to develop independent trading models? Is it science-fact or science-fiction? What have we already achieved in this field? These are some of the questions we will try to answer during this course”
The course starts today and it is titled “Machines and Finance”.
They say that your 20s are the best period in life, with these thoughts I look at the laptop screen. The notes file is open and empty.
“The analysis of the internal structure of an environment and of the connectivity between the different areas of such an environment is essential to understand why mass behaviours and emotions arise” says the Professor.
My notes are not totally blank: there is a small, vertical line on the top of the page that intermittently appears and disappears. “Internet and the global society are the ideal context for the analysis of collective reactions. The network speeds up and amplifies everything. This is why we need to understand which centres are stimulated by specific inputs and what responses they originate”
I look at the laptop again. One of Brecht’s quotes is pulsing in my head, intermittently: “What is robbing a bank compared to founding one?” Strange thoughts, I am neither going to found a bank, nor I need to rob one. I take what I need from financial markets. I started when I enrolled at the University. I simply know how to do it. The semicircle’s attention revolves around Professor Villa Mandelli in the same way what I need revolves around information. You need to acquire techniques and knowledge; take what you need from the system. Elementary, such as the shape of the anti-static cloth I am now using to clean the laptop surface. A simple square.
The Professor keeps talking and the Dishevelled guy keeps searching for eye-contact. Nobody notices that I am signing into my Bloomberg account. The trade is as simple as that square. Bank options are not priced correctly; people still believe they will pay out dividends. Sometimes volatily traders are similar to monkeys: perched on trees, they do not see that the world, down there, is changing. They do not know that, the next year, that bank is not going to pay dividends. But I know it, I got it. This is why I am now going to sell a call option expiring in June 2016 and buy another one expiring in September. With minimum profit, enough to cover my yearly boarding costs. Or three months of grocery and bills. Or, I could travel for a year. I check the prices again. And confirm the trade.
A great tip, which could be included in the history of journalism.
The girl and the dishevelled guy are now talking to each other, over the distance between them. She turns her head and looks at him, while her hair moves towards the opposite side. The short vertical line keeps flashing on my blank page. I maximize a window. A news website. The title on the homepage is larger than usual. I skim the text on the screen and try to understand it in spite of the Professor’s deep voice.
A great tip, which could be included in the history of journalism. Mossak Fonseca Law Firm. An offshore company. Source: reserved, confidential, anonymous. Scandal: Panama Papers.
They won’t understand that this is a war.
That the lack of transparency is a weapon and not only a big lie. They won’t understand that the hacker culture is going to disclose the truth and pull the weapon out. Panama Papers is the name of the battle, and it will be remembered as a historical battle. The world is the battleground. The two armies are facing each other: the rebels on one side, the Establishment on the other one.
Who is the unlawful one? You are.
The rebels, the subversives are not in the street. They fight from ordinary houses, ordinary buildings. They type codes on keyboards similar to this one and generate panic without going to the street. Through the simple disclosure of information you can generate panic: they are hiding something because there is something to hide. And namely that Russia, Argentina, Iceland and France are guided by people who own bank accounts in tax havens. That David Cameron is avoiding taxes with nonchalance: the personification of 2.0 class consciousness, the man who transformed London into a shiny showcase of the global capital. That Mauricio Macri, in Argentina, has signed an agreement with four American hedge funds. He settled debts with creditors and abrogated the previous administration’s laws which provided for the block of payments. He made a political choice and used public funds. Quite nonchalant as well. Far too nonchalant. This man’s private capitals are in Panama: of course, offshore. They are asking for sacrifice but they never participate. And the 99% of the world reacts when this 1% of lies is disclosed. In Iceland, the Prime Minister stepped down amid rising protests. These people will not understand.
Professor Villa Mandelli uses many words, with his deep voice. As many as his lives. A double-faced radical-chic. A Professor in blue jeans who fucks his students. Rumours run fast, a lot of students have heard about it.
“In the prediction of human behaviours” he says “the circulation of information becomes particularly important: how information is provided and when. It is not a coincidence that some news agencies have become actual providers of financial data that they manage flows of information in all languages. By understanding the news circulation we can understand future passions and behaviours….”
My voice interrupts him from the central seat of the last row: “To understand and predict? And/ or to generate passion and impose behaviours?”
He looks at me, down there. I look at him, up here. The stretched line fully crosses the semi-circular room. He continues: “No software can generate passions in humans” He looks relaxed and not bothered. And while he goes back to his lesson, putting his fingers on the first desk, I hide my IP and launch the software to crack the email password: firstname.lastname@example.org. His email password.
He is looking at the girl in the first desk, while my fingers are entering his mailbox.
We must learn how to catch the global capital with the net of global hacktivism.
In the semicircle, Professor Achille Villa Mandelli is wearing jeans and a shirt open at the throat, the jacket sleeves are rolled up and his hands are on the table. He left the squared screen and abandoned his old name: “Joker”. There is more: he repudiated it. Inside, between the 90s and the 2000s he was considered as a legend by the hacker culture. In the outer world, he is an IT security systems consultant and a Professor at Sapienza. He went to the other side. From inside to outside.
There I am, in the class semicircle, in the central seat of the last row, my name is Alessandro Grimaldi, Alex in short. But the classroom is the outside, the exterior, and I do not care too much about Alessandro – Alex – Grimaldi’s life. And I don’t care too much about the lesson of Mr Villa Mandelli. I prefer to care about the life of “Destroy” because I have not abandoned my name. I have never been tempted to move to the other side. Being a hacktivist means to be inside a quadrilateral. It means to enter a legend’s email account and consider him as an enemy. Because he cooperates with the information security officers, which is what enemies do. Only enemies can create algorithms that generate fear on the markets. Hacktivists know, for example, that Mr Villa Mandelli works for a powerful conditioning instrument: a computer program that does not only predict behaviours but also generates market terror through specific sequences of actions. The real power is of those who create terror.
Hacktivists track such information, verify it, disclose it and sabotage the enemy’s plan.
As Slavoj Žižek wrote “We are the rebels and the war we fight is a warranty for everybody. Let’s make public use of reason”. We shed light on information, far away from the inclined planes of personal interests that are often mixed to the public ones. We are out of capitalism, Venture Capital and Wall Street. We sneak in the power machine and reveal its mechanisms.
We are the future: for this and because we can further improve. We are currently good at destroying but not so good at constructing. We must learn how to catch the global capital in the net of global hacktivism. For now, we keep shortening the distance between us and the ruling class.
I close my laptop and stand up. I focus again on their version of inside and outside. Mr Villa Mandelli is continuing with his lesson while I go out. I avoid eye contact and I leave the university building. I remove myself from the habits followed by students like a law that cannot be amended, in front of their professors.
I walk down the street towards the Verano. I think about “Demons”, computer programmes out of the user’s control that operate in the background. They were probably named after Maxwell and his devil, a creature able to manage the molecules’ flow, by separating the cold ones from the hot ones, which does not happen in nature, thus overcoming the second law of thermodynamics. Maxwell’s devil is something more than a simple theoretical hypothesis or a paradox. It is almost a metaphor of what was going to happen, and of what actually happened. I think that in the real world, both inside and outside, among financial market flows and on the edges of the network, there are powerful forces able to exercise pervasive control. And there is something diabolical in it. It seems that those computer programmes have stopped to work remotely and have reached the core of the system. Users are cut out and entrapped in an illusion of freedom, subjugated by something that used to be inside only, and that is now everywhere.
I walk along the rusty railings, and for the last time I look at the torn university building. I put my hood on and become invisible. I will not allow anybody to say that your 20s are the best period in life.