For Parker, it's not a question of if human investors will rely less on human analysis, it's how much they already do. Mimicking the mind of analysts to extend their reach, while not exactly trivial, is not exactly rocket science either. "The big trick is to realize that what we call a report is not a report, but a series of diagrammable subgenres like chapters, sections, paragraphs or whatever," he said. "And once you get to that last subgenre, you've written a formula." It's a process Parker says is well within the reach of larger enterprises and investing firms and, more and more, even the rank-and-file investor. Without question, the most interesting of the firms behind such processes is Durham, N.C.-based Automated Insights. The firm has created its own proprietary content creation algo that produces written analysis and trend forecasting based solely on the numbers financial markets create organically. "We produce content with nothing but data as the input," Robbie Allen, founder of the firm, told me via email. Allen explained that his technology looks for relative change in financial data and assigns a qualitative value to that change, which is captured and rendered in English. Cormac McCarthy it is not, but we've all read worse. And business is growing. The company already provides similar content to Yahoo! ( YHOO) Sports based on sports box scores. "We are talking to a couple of companies about personalized portfolio recaps," Allen said. But the growing reach of automated analysis is not limited to science fiction-like operations such as Automated Insights. Boston-based Trefis creates what it calls a "meaningful financial community" based on the components of the price of a stock -- but with a fascinating, automated, intelligent analysis twist. The firm, with less than 50 people, uses technology developed by MIT grads to extend the analytical reach of its team of human analysts. It offers a variable target price for a stock based on complex scenario analysis of the value components of that stock. And it does it for more than 200 popular equities. And in real time. "Our forecasts and the corresponding rationale are transparent to all," says the company website. "And each forecast assumption that has an impact on the Trefis price is modifiable by users." Go take a look and tell me what humans can do that. It's pretty darn impressive. Just another collapsing market
What's getting plain old sad is how there's nothing particularly unique about the decline and fall of the financial analyst empire. As in music, publishing and other sectors in financial services, it turned out that creating written reports and doing the valuations are handled just fine by machines. So just like any other blogger, lawyer or banker, the once invulnerable Wall Street analyst will have to get right with life in this Dark Age 2.0. Working harder to stretch ever-thinner resources to meet the rising demand of output, and all the while living with the odd wonder of wondering what algorithm finally takes at his or her job altogether. As Parker puts it, "Analysis is simply too simple a problem."