If you have ever tried to grab a bargain that appears online, you’ll know you have to be quick. The business of high frequency trading — using algorithms and superfast computers to conduct trades in a fraction of a second — is a supercharged version of this, with the potential to execute millions of buy and sell orders electronically each day through the myriad exchanges currently in existence.

Advocates argue that high frequency trading reduces market volatility and lowers transaction costs for small investors, but others claim it is unfair on slower traders, and can lead to instability — trading algorithms and high frequency trading were behind the “Flash Crash” of May 6 2010, when the Dow Jones briefly plummeted almost 1,000 points.

Irrespective of how the popularity of high frequency trading changes in the future, this need for speed will continue to drive a technological arms race where the weapons of choice include new types of computer circuits hard-wired with dedicated trading algorithms; new tunnels blasted through mountains to ensure more direct optic fiber connections; new cables being laid in straighter paths across the Atlantic seabed; and even new networks of microwave towers to profit from the speed of electromagnetic signals through air.

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