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 "No, it's not a exactly time machine," said Prosser. "It's much more exciting than that." Prosser handed his companion a black glove. "Put this on, please," he asked and pulled on a similar garment.

Simpson was skeptical, but did as he was told. He trusted Prosser implicitly. Luck had it that he had financed many of Simpson's early inventions. And boy had the investment gods smiled upon them. It was kismet: no other financial partnership had been more blessed since Edwin Land and the Morgans.

There were too many hits to remember. One of Simpson's favourites had been Hypnerall. It compressed the average individual's sleep cycle from eight hours to five and a half. Sixty-five percent of the US population used it daily, all on a one-cent royalty. They could have charged far more, but Simpson knew when to keep a low profile. More controversially there was UrDat. A steganographic method of storing binary data in a urine soluble genetic compound. With it, a user could carry around a petabyte of mission critical bladder-water, completely undetectable. And now this.

"So explain it again, and what's this glove?"

"It's a quantum investment simulator. The glove records your quantum signature and allows it to be mapped into the the simulation. A time machine would allow you to skip around time. The simulator, and your glove, allows you to skip around universes. In effect."

"But the universes aren't real, right?" cautioned Simpson.

"Well… that depends on your philosophy."

"And what's your philosophy?"

"ProSim Capital doesn't pay me to philosophise. It pays me for investment returns."

"And the application?"

"Our initial focus has been on modelling economic and investment scenarios. Close your eyes, please. Witnessing the boot-up phase is too disorienting for most people." Simpson obeyed. Prosser grasped Simpson's gloved thumb and squeezed.

"Open your eyes," instructed Prosser.

Simpson looked around. Two seconds ago he had been standing in a laboratory. Now… Simpson did a three-sixty. "Where are we?"

"We're inside the first simulation. Value World."

"Value World?"

"Yes, we took the regular world but edited the gene pool to make every financial professional biased towards value investing. So what do you notice?" asked Prosser.

Simpson scanned the street up and down. It looked pretty normal to him. "Looks pretty much status quo to me."

"But what if I told you that I programmed the simulator to take us to 2080?"

Simpson looked blankly at Prosser.

"It's sixty years on, Simpson! And nothing has changed. When we made everyone favour value investment, nobody could get any venture capital financed. Nothing higher than twelve times earnings could attract capital. Investors demanded earnings distributions close to 100%. When management didn't oblige, activists came knocking. Then management lobbied congress for support, and hey presto, new and improved poison pills were legislated and installed. It has ended up a mexican stand-off between investors and boards and, corporately speaking, time and technology has stood still ever since." Prosser squeezed Simpson's thumb again.

Simpson looked up and down the same street. It seemed identical, except… wait. All the signs were in a foreign language. Simpson looked at Prosser and raised an eyebrow.

"It's Hungarian."

"Explain."

"In this simulation, we made everybody day traders. It was a boon to Wall Street. Commissions climbed exponentially. Income to the exchanges exploded, returns to capital crashed and everyone's equity holdings gradually dissipated to nothing."

"And the Hungarian?"

"Well, Interactive Brokers cleaned up. Thomas Peterffy merged his assets into all of the major global exchanges and became the world's richest man by a factor of twenty to one. Peterffy had a pet theory about old Hungarian providing some sort of cognitive boost to reasoning through its use of complex morphology and sponsored it to become the lingua franca."

"Bizarre. What else have you simulated?

"There was Keynes World. We spliced John Maynard Keynes' genetics into the whole investment population. We expected something spectacular to happen, but nothing seemed to change financially or economically, except…"

"Except?"

"Well, there was a population boom. Everyone had much better sex." Prosser smiled. "There's one simulation we should visit. Thumb please." He squeezed.

"Where are we now?" Simpson asked.

"Let's go into this diner," said Prosser, pointing across the street.

As Simpson entered, there was near silence. Everyone looked depressed. They took a seat and a waitress came over.

"Can I get… your order… pl…" The waitress broke into tears.

"Why is everyone so upset?" asked Simpson.

"In this scenario we made all of the investment managers favour market-neutral hedge fund investing. Equity managers had 100% of stock out on borrow to themselves. Due to an accident by one of clearing houses, all of the stock was simultaneously recalled one day. The funds couldn't delta hedge their exposure fast enough and started to take on net-long positions. It caused a month long, exponential short squeeze in which everyone's portfolio traded at close to infinity. And for one beautiful month, the whole population thought they had got rich. Until it crashed. Nobody has got over it since."

"How can you have 100% out on borrow to yourself?" asked Simpson innocently.

"Look, the details are complex. Anyway, what else have we simulated? Well, there was Macro World - don't ask. And then Options World, where everyone sold gamma. For a decade or two everything went much better than normal, but suddenly everyone went bankrupt and it ended up in a kind of Mad Max scenario."

"What has all this cost us so far?" asked Simpson.

"ProSim Capital has spent negative $1.5bn and growing. It's the ultimate cash machine."

"And what happens if you simulate out the current investment environment without changing it?" queried Simpson.

Prosser stared blankly into the distance. "Everything ends up being owned by a textile mill controlled by the Gates Foundation."


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