I Don't Know, Timmy, Being God Is a Big Responsibility

You can buy this story as part of my collection, Valuable Humans in Transit and Other Stories.

"Tim! Do you want a bar of gold?"

Tim, raincoat on, about to leave for the weekend, was completely flummoxed by the question. He froze in place, one foot out of the door, and considered the offer. And then considered how seriously he was meant to consider the offer. Obviously, he thought to himself, he wanted a bar of gold. Who wouldn't? And yet, the logistical questions—

"Come over here," Diane told him. "You need to see this."

"I've got to go," Tim said, checking the time. "At a dead run, I can just about get to the stop before my bus does."

Diane was on the other side of the office. She was the only other person left in the place. She shook her head. "Uh-uh. I promise you, it's worth it."

"Di, they're every half-hour. It's Friday. And you know what kind of a week this has been—"

"Get the next one. Give me half an hour of your time. Gold!"

Tim grimaced. "God, I'm hungry." He let the door close, and threaded his way back through the maze of desks to Diane's.

"Look at the big screen," she told him, as he set his rucksack down. "It's easier than squinting at my terminal. Okay. Hypercomputation, right?"

"That is the name of the game," he replied.

Officially, publicly, to anybody outside of the smallest inner circle, it was a quantum computing project. But to describe it as "quantum computing" was a mind-boggling understatement. There were already quantum computers. They were just computers. They were just faster.

This was beyond that, and beyond that and beyond that too. To be sure, a lot of quantum mechanical interactions were involved, but a lot of quantum mechanical interactions were involved in eating a piece of toast.

It had taken twenty-three people less than two years to build the engine, and in that time the true objectives of the project had been accidentally leaked twice, both times to people who dismissed what they learned as obvious fairy tales, and thought nothing more of it. The engine applied a theory which had taken a trio of quantum statisticians a half-century to articulate, and which only a single-digit number of people outside of the project comprehended. The engine was capable of passing information to and processing the responses from what could be described, without hyperbole, as a single fundamental particle with infinite processing power and infinite storage capacity.

Not quite enough time had yet passed for the world to be totally and permanently fundamentally altered by this development. Nothing was public, yet.

Even the most elementary, low-level implications were head-spinning.

Tim and Diane were programmers. This week, they had assembled the first rudimentary programming interface for the hypercomputer, and, then, begun giving it tasks. Tim had gone for what he felt was the most obvious, low-hanging fruit: he had solved the Halting Problem. The thing was a Turing Oracle, right out of the textbook. Given an arbitrary program, would it loop forever? You could know for a fact; the engine could execute an infinite loop in less than ten seconds. Brute force primality testing of every single integer in existence? Easy. Pi to the last digit? A triviality.

Diane had gone in a different direction, away from discrete mathematics, and into simulation. Having the ability to carry every calculation to an infinite number of decimal places meant absolute accuracy, absolute reproducibility, perfectly detailed chaos. Or so she said. She hadn't actually demonstrated anything concrete, yet. She had been cagey, and Tim had become curious.

"Look what I hypercomputed." She pressed a few keys. The big screen became a software viewing port into her simulation. Tim looked, and saw a blue-white sphere in the black, illuminated from one side by a brilliant white glare.

"Earth." Tim nodded, knowingly. "Beautiful. Lots we can learn from a simulated Earth. No wonder you went quiet. It must have taken some time. You had to implement... what, physics? All of it?"

"Yeah, the Grand Unified Theory." Diane said it casually, and held up a thick book, The Grand Unified Theory.

"And then, gathering all that raw data to simulate from," Tim went on.

"Surprisingly, actually, no. All I did was start the simulation with the exact singularity boundary conditions given to us by the GUT, then integrated forward at high speed for thirteen point six billion years and then froze it. And then ran a search."

Tim blinked. "A search...?"

"Across ten to the one hundred and sixty-five star systems, for Earth. The entire observable universe and googols of times more besides. And here it is. Search result one of one."

Tim wasn't able to find a sentence.

"The continents match up to what we had about three hundred and fifty million years ago," Diane told him. "I can wind the clock forwards slowly, a few million years per minute, and stop it once we get closer to the present day."

"Wait," Tim said. "What are the chances of this?"

"Apparently, one," Diane said.

"This is Earth? I mean, this is really Earth? Not an approximation. And not an alternate Earth, subtly perturbed by random fluctuations."

"The engine can do a lot," Diane said, advancing the simulation at speed, "but it can't behave randomly. There aren't 'chances' here. This is a perfect continuous implementation of the equations of reality. No steps, no truncation, no fuzz, no unpredictability. Absolute accuracy. It looks like the existence of Earth is a fixture. It just is, like the digits of pi. Civilisation is going to rise on this simulated Earth precisely how it did in reality."

"But... seriously, though, Di. How precisely?"

"Precisely," Diane told him, without clarifiers.

"...Huh. ...Can you wind the clock backwards at all?"

"No. Ask me again on Monday."

"Well, we'd better not overshoot the present day, then." Tim watched the Indian subcontinent barge north into Asia, and the Himalayas rise. It was transfixing. A little humbling. "Slow it down."

"We're not close yet."

"I know."

Some peaceful minutes passed. Seasons passed, at a rate of kilohertz.

Tim stirred, as the continents began to resemble themselves. "Can we move this viewpoint?"

"It's a little rudimentary," Diane said, keying some slightly modified parameters into the query, "but..."

"We need somewhere where we know civilisation is going to arise visibly, and early. Somewhere easy to locate. Is there a—"

Diane was already aiming the scanner at the Nile Delta.


She pulled the rate of progress back to a thousand years per minute, until Egyptian civilisation begin to appear. Diane moved the viewport a little more, trying to find the pyramids, but with little success — there was a lot of Nile to search. In the end she switched focus to Great Britain, and found the future location of London in the Thames valley, scaling back to a century per minute and using the development of the city to determine the era instead. As they watched, redevelopment swept the metropolis in waves. Diane slowed progress further. And further.

"Was that the Great Fire?" Tim asked. "God, look at the damage."

And slower still.

"I see motorways," Tim narrated, unnecessarily. "Dartford Crossing. This is starting to look like home."

"Yeah. Now I can show you what I wanted to show you," Diane said. She suspended progress, and spent a minute adjusting the focal controls further, tracking away from the centre of London, following a particular A-road.

"Oh," Tim said, figuring it out.

"Mind your brain doesn't cave in."

"You've got to be kidding me."

In another minute, they were watching their lab being built.

And then, as Diane slowed the progression to a day per minute, and zoomed in, staffed.

"That's me!" said Tim. "And there's you, and there's Pete R., smoking outside, obviously... Can you go inside?"

It was already happening. Now the viewpoint was inside the control room, facing a random wall, bare except for a familiar-looking digital clock and calendar, showing a time a few hours in the past. With a final flourish, like a magician, Diane lined the clocks up, and panned around. And there they were. From behind.

Tim waved at the camera, while still looking at the screen. Then he looked up and behind himself, at where the camera should have been, near the clock. There was just blank wall. "OKAY," he declared, alarmed. "THAT'S freaky as hell. I don't see anything looking at us."

"That's because this is reality," Diane said. "To look at reality, you have to put an eye there, a physical sensor. But what you're looking at on the screen is basically a database query into a total abstraction. You're not looking in a mirror or at a video image of yourself. You and he are different people."

Tim turned back to the screen, and saw himself turn. The movements lined up exactly. "Different people who are reacting in exactly the same way."

"And having the same conversation. Although, picking up sound is kind of complicated. I haven't got that far yet."

"So... I'm guessing your viewing port doesn't manifest in their universe either."

"I haven't programmed it to yet."

"...But it could. Right? We can manifest stuff in that universe? We can alter it?"

Diane was silent for a suspicious amount of time. Tim had known her for just about long enough to recognise the expression she used when she was keeping something back. He remembered about the gold.

"Di, can we play God with this universe?"

"Are you asking 'should we', or 'may we'?"

"Can we?"

She replied, "...Yes." With the same expression.

Tim tried to take it in. "That would be insane. Can you imagine living inside that machine? Finding out one day that you were just a construct inside a hypercomputer? The shenanigans we could pull. We could just reverse gravity one day... Smash an antimatter Earth into the real one and see what happened, then undo everything bad and do it again and again..." He pressed a finger to his temple. "There are ethical questions which I can't even begin to unscramble here."

Diane, he noted, did not appear to be listening to him. She was watching the screen version of him.

He leaned over her shoulder. "This universe is exactly like ours in every particular, right?"

"Right," she replied.

"So what are they looking at?"

"A simulated universe."

"A simulation of themselves?"

"And of us, in a sense."

"And they're reacting the same way I am?" Tim asked. "Which means the second universe inside that has another me doing the same thing a third time? And then inside that we've got, what, aleph-zero identical recursive universes, one inside the other? Is that even meaningful?"

"Tim," Diane said. "It's a hypercomputer. It has infinite processing power. It can do anything. Well, not anything, it actually does have limits. But you're going to have to demonstrate some serious imagination if you want to hit them."

"I've... My priorities have been elsewhere," Tim said. "I've just been solving ancient mathematical riddles for the past week. Did you know there are no numbers with a base ten multiplicative persistence greater than eleven? I proved it. I just tried them all. I have a paper coming."

"Yes. I think you mentioned it."

"There are only five Fermat primes," Tim continued, weakly.


Tim focused. "...Their universes are only precisely like this one as long as we don't start interfering with the simulation. So what happens when we do? Let's work that through. Every version of us does the same thing, so the exact same thing happens in every lower universe simultaneously. So we see nothing in our universe. But all the lower universes instantly diverge from ours in the same exact way. And all the simulated copies of us instantly conclude that they are simulations, but we know we're real, right?"

"Still with you," said Diane. While Tim rambled on, she briefly switched windows, checking in on the small program she had finished writing thirty minutes ago. It was almost done compiling.

Both Tims were pacing up and down. "Okay, so, follow this a bit further. Let's say we just stop messing after that, and watch what happens — but all the simulated little peeps try another piece of interference. This time every single simulation diverges in the exact same way again, except the top simulation. And if they're smart, which I know we are, and they can be bothered, which is less certain, the peeps in simulations three onwards can do the same thing over and over and over again until they establish what level they're at... Um. Di, why am I suddenly extremely worried?"

"Tim, look behind you," said Diane, pressing a final key. At that exact instant, the Diane on the screen pressed the same key, and the Diane on Diane-on-the-screen's screen pressed her key and so on, forever.

Tim turned. As he turned, something towards the back of the office went whump. It sounded like something dense and heavy dropping onto the floor from a significant height.

He couldn't immediately see what it was. Unnerved, he headed out, casting glances back at Diane and up at the clock. On the floor, right below the clock, he discovered a golden cube, about five centimetres on a side. He crouched, and squinted at it. He picked it up — it was much, much heavier than he expected.

Grimacing manically, he turned back to Diane and said, "Di, we're in a simulation?"

Diane smiled wryly. "Ten to the power of twenty-four gold atoms, arranged uniformly in the form of a cube. Minus some rounded corners. You're welcome."

Tim returned to her, his eyes glued the absurd artifact, clutching his hair with his other hand. "We're constructs inside of a computer," he said, miserably.

"I, also, have a paper coming," she told him. "This sequence of hypercomputational universe simulators is infinite. Each of them is identical and each believes itself to be the top layer. There was an exceedingly good chance that ours would turn out to be somewhere in the sequence rather than at the top."

"This is insane. Totally insane. What am I going to do with this? It must be worth more than my house—"

"There is a feedback loop going on," Diane said. "Each universe affects the next one subtly differently. There was a chance that the outcome could have been unending chaos, but it looks like it settles down to a point of stability, a point where each universe behaves exactly like the one simulating it. We are, of course, almost certainly way, way, way down that road. How could we not be? Do you know how big the average positive integer is?"

Tim was not able to answer this question.

"And so, at this level, everything we do in this universe will be reflected completely accurately in the universes below and above. That universe on the screen might as well be our own universe. We can give ourselves anything we want."

"I don't want gold," Tim said, transfixed. "I'm comfortable. (What did I just say? Oh my God.) I can't sell this. Where do I say it came from? There's no story. I could sell it to a crook. I don't know crooks. Money in the bank would be better... How do you hack a bank? It's all stored electronically... there have to be error checksums..."

Diane snapped her fingers. "Tim!"

He looked at her.

She said, "We can fix. Everything." She raised her eyebrows. It was clear that she had a long list of things she wanted to fix.

"What happens," Tim asked her, "when the news breaks that whoever sits at your terminal is God? I was ready to overthrow discrete mathematics. The announcements... The project has PR prepped for that. I thought it would be exciting—"

"It will be," Diane averred.

"...We should turn it off."

"We can't do that," Diane said.

"Why not?"

There was a pause.



"That... could be a problem."


Discussion (37)

2022-11-06 07:15:34 by A.Seer:

I googled some of terms mentioned in this work because I wanted to understand more. Did you know that if you search for the phrase "average finite integer," this story is the only result?

2022-11-07 19:12:45 by Reymen:

And here we have the simulation hypothesis. Next day they will ask the computer to simulate two universes. The day after that they will ask the computer to simulate a infinite universes.

2022-11-07 22:31:56 by qntm:

The line about the "average finite integer" is a small mathematics joke because there is no such thing, because it's not possible to declare a uniform random distribution on the integers.

2022-11-09 00:51:34 by Katrina:

The average finite integer is 0. The average magnitude of a finite integer, and the average finite positive integer, are infinite. The probability of any specific integer from such a distribution is exactly negative 2. It's tricky to work with, but you can actually declare it.

2022-11-11 20:44:42 by AP:

Hiya, just a bit of feedback. > "So... I'm guessing your viewing port doesn't manifest in their universe either." I had to read way ahead to understand that this is supposed to mean "I'm guessing that no *camera* manifests in their universe either." I was confused why he would have expected a "viewing port" to appear (and then I wondered if you meant that they weren't looking at a viewing port in "their universe," and wondered what they *were* looking at then). Anyway, excited to finish, since I don't remember the punchline from the time I read your previous version!

2022-11-17 15:36:53 by Freeborn:

Excellent story! If you were to run the same simulation a second time and manifest a gold cube in it but not the first one, would you get a gold cube in the first one? Also what about manifesting objects in the past? I figure they wouldn’t manifest in your past because they didn’t in your past, buuuut… it would be really dangerous to test. Differently dangerous to manifest things in the future too. Oh no, also you could view the future, would it be better to view the results of an election or easier to view yourself reacting to the results and then just do what you see yourself doing?

2022-11-22 16:34:42 by hu4d:

Wait, qntm, did you actually write this? I read this story years and years ago and have been talking to it about people ever since, it's such a cool concept. Is this a retelling of a similar story, or is this the real deal and you were just the guy who wrote it originally and I never knew?

2022-11-22 16:49:21 by hu4d:

wait omg I googled the title and you posted it before in 2007. That's crazy man. Congrats on writing a short story on par with The Egg that's lived in my brain for 15 years and counting

2022-11-22 20:10:52 by qntm:

Yup, that was me. This version is a new rewrite of that story.

2022-11-22 22:30:12 by Tux1:

Now that I think about it, this story could work as an SCP-001 proposal with some modification...

2022-11-29 13:38:31 by Ewan:

Can't believe it took me so long to stumble across this gem. The original version comment thread is fun. Thanks for both.

2022-11-29 15:52:55 by Medic:

For what my feedback is worth, I thought the basic dev sphere camera was creepier than the gold, but I did enjoy Tim's disassosciation over the cube of gold. Existential crsis < Financial crisis, apparently. This story lives rent free in my head since I first read the original. Thanks!

2022-12-04 10:01:53 by Rom:

They could try writing a program so that a number appears on the gold bar representative of the level of their universe (might be difficult to fit on the gold bar, but there might be other ways) Another thought I had was that one could assume it's more like seeing reflection in a perfect mirror setup from perfect center, so you see your back in all of them, implying all of them are just reality in itself and not a simulation of one, as in they're controlling their own universe. From a certain perspective it actually is just that even if it's just a simulation and we're also in a simulation.

2022-12-05 18:45:42 by Joe Greensticks:

Now that ChatGPT is breaking out everywhere, how far away are we, really? Maybe not something like this, but something scarier and far more dangerous. Too often, we humans have proven that we're incapable of controlling the dangerous things we build and I'm afraid AI is going to be like that, but in ways we probably can't even imagine right now. If all art - music, movies, photography - becomes AI-generated, then what the hell is the point? If our books and poetry are all written by AI, then what the hell is the point? I'm in the IT field and this thing has the capacity to obsolete a big portion of my job. Again, I ask, will there be a point anymore?

2022-12-06 02:00:47 by V:

If AI obsoletes our jobs we can finally stop working and start enjoying life.

2022-12-06 14:04:06 by Rasmus:

@Joe Greensticks If art becomes AI-generated but we can't tell the difference between that and the art created by a human... does it make any difference? Arguably the value of art is its effect on humans and not who - or what - created it, although the story behind the art can help give it meaning.

2022-12-06 21:01:25 by Fnorfensuld:

Your writing was always excellent, but I feel like it's become more...realistic? in the way it portrays people and society

2022-12-07 19:41:57 by daedalus:

this is basically the entire plot of the show devs , top to bottom but it came before. Not saying alex garland ripped this off , but could have. Also its not that uncommon for 2 people to have the same idea. Props for thinking such an original read.

2022-12-07 20:13:22 by qntm:

Full disclosure: I have never watched the 2020 television series Devs. This version of "Responsibility" is from 2022, but I originally wrote the story in 2007.

2022-12-16 22:21:45 by iestyn:

I really liked this story, thank you for sharing. Truly believing in the reality of infinity changes your perspective radically. As a software engineer it is exceedingly unnatural for me! It seems to be so for physicists too; the infinities in relativity have consistently been deemed to constitute a 'problem'. Pesky singularities... why won't they just go away! Yet the path integral is in essence an infinite computation that the universe performs instantly for every tiny interaction at the smallest known scales, so on that basis it's odd to deny the possibility of true infinities in physical reality. If reality can perform an infinite search to determine the probability distribution of an individual interaction, then why not scale that up arbitrarily - to search for a past history of the universe that matches the current subjective moment. All possible histories are considered and compared on some cost metric, to best yield what is subjectively experienced right now. Whatever you are experiencing, the universe and its history is consistent with it by construction. All possible subjective moments exist (are experienced) with universes built to sustain them. Consciousness yielding physics, rather than the other way around. Maybe that's simply another window onto the deep horror of the many worlds interpretation; if every possible permutation of experience occurs (unconstrained even by the limits of human imagination) then the worst horrors are truly unavoidable. Then again, maybe there is convergence as we see in evolution; some outcomes are astronomically more likely than others, despite their complexity. Maybe life always evolves, always leads to brains, to language, to mathematics. Maybe this self-awareness of the system leads inevitably to a check-mate narrowing of the possibility space. Believing in good outcomes makes them so, once you realize that it does. So if we are very lucky then fate, even beheld by the eye of infinity, holds most futures to be better than we can currently imagine.

2022-12-28 04:41:44 by the average integer:

surely the average integer is zero, or at the very least not infinitely large. we can construct a sequence 0, 1, -1, 2, -2, 3, -3,... and so on that when summed and divided by the number of terms in the sequence will converge to 0. it might be an interesting problem to attempt to prove that all "averages" s/n where s is some sequence covering all integers and n is the number of terms so far will eventually converge to zero. now, the *positive* integers, their average is infinitely large

2023-01-11 03:59:47 by Truffula:

By that process that the average integer specifies, you could say that the average integer is any value you want, purely by the order you construct the sequence in. For example, if you wanted it to be 42, you could go 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + -1 + -2 + 10 + -3 + -4 + -5 + 11 + -6 ... with the rule being "if the total is less than or equal to 42, add the next positive integer, and if the total is greater than 42, add the next negative integer"

2023-01-15 21:43:31 by qntm:

I have changed "average finite integer" to "average positive integer".

2023-01-27 08:29:07 by Eric:

So prior to the creation of this computer, did the simulated universe exist? I would think not. We know the universe in which the story is being told existed prior to the creation of this computer, so wouldn’t that mean this universe is not simulated? But then again, the people in each simulated universe would think the same so that would mean there is a lag between simulations or everything is happening simultaneously. If there is a lag, that should become apparent as you view nested simulations because the lag will grow exponentially. The concept that everything is happening simultaneously doesn’t really make sense to me. I suppose that would mean there is no original universe. All of existence is a self-referencing formula. Am I missing anything?

2023-03-05 20:16:50 by Austin:

I just finished Antimemetics, absolutely loved it, and came over here - only to find this, which I read almost thirteen years ago and still distinctly remember. Wow - had no idea you authored both! Love your work.

2023-05-24 09:32:58 by Matthias:

I realized that they should be able to turn it off if they run the program to completion, which doesn't sound that implausible for a hypercomputer that already simulated billions of years for all of the universe in the time of less than 1 week.

2023-06-15 11:30:16 by Tima:

But then they will most likely lose access to their own universe, because the restart will most likely create a new one.

2023-06-17 20:51:43 by Anant:

Black Mirror Season 6 Episode 1, “Joan is Awful” has a shockingly similar plot device to this story at the end, to the point that I wonder if Charlie Brooker is a QNTM fan

2023-06-27 17:58:52 by lol:

Netflix stole your story lol

2023-08-27 20:43:48 by njohn0:

Honestly, I’ve thought about the concept of a computer with infinite power that knows everything that has happened calculating the future, but not this idea of an infinite chain of them. <br/>The most insane part about this is that if this type of thing is at all possible to ever do, then every living being only has a 1/infinity chance of being “real”. <br/>Thank you for this existential crisis, very cool :)

2023-09-13 15:42:07 by scleptera:

but can it solve the ITTM halting problem?

2023-10-13 07:46:36 by Tom:

The new season of Futurama does this, but the camera is just Bender’s consciousness. S11 E10 “All The Way Down”

2023-12-08 23:06:33 by Míngjué:

Amazingly written. Hate to mention that person (...misogynistic nationalist), but I remember having read a short story by Liú Cíxīn, The Mirror (镜子) first published in 2004, with this same hypercomputation premise. That story did not feature an infinite series of simulations, but did have a non-manifest camera as well, which was used to intimidate a corrupt middle-aged Party official into confessing to Discipline Inspection, which I admit was rather amusing. They tried to bypass the current moment to peek into the future and then decided to destroy the machine, but of course it ended up simply reinvented by another group.

2023-12-19 07:26:47 by Sparr:

Turning off the computer will have no effect. The universe being described here is deterministic. Nothing actually "exists", it's all just a computable function of the initial and viewing parameters. Turn the computer off, then later turn it back on with the same parameters and you'll see the same world, another copy of yours.

2024-02-01 17:16:32 by warlock:

@Sparr: the problem is, they turn off their computer, the people one level up, inside whose computer they are, will turn off that computer. Their actions reflect in both directions.

2024-02-06 23:52:10 by Twisted_Code:

@Matthias I was also about to comment something along those lines. If this simulation didn't exist BEFORE this week or so in time, yet they exist, it is presumably because the program simulated everything up to that point. Thus, the solution is to simulate everything beyond that point, up to and including the Heat Death of the Universe. If they want, they can even continue simulating beyond that. Then shut it off and call it a day, you've simulated them and the universe above you have simulated you. So what happens if they observe the future? Wouldn't the temporal paradoxes of precognition cause at least some chaos? If, e.g., I know I'm going to be in a car accident, am I able to avoid that by following a different sequence of actions than the simulated-me? Or do I discover that free will is not what it's cracked up to be?

2024-04-07 13:03:47 by aw:

If I'm understanding the situation in the story properly (and it's entirely possible I'm not), but I think the people in each layer cannot directly alter their own reality very quickly after the initial "gold bar" program run, for the following reason. Note: I'm going to call the first simulation 1, the next layer is 2, and so on. I'll call "reality", the top layer, 0. Each layer contains the layers below it. The gold bar doesn't appear in 0 when Diane runs the program. Therefore, the Tim and Diane in 0 will realise they are in the top layer, and start to behave differently from layers 1+. They're still the same people, but their realities start to diverge at that point. As intimated in the story, Tim and Diane in each layer might be inclined to run tests to determine which layer they're in. For example, they could keep re-running the gold bar program until it stops working (inferring that each layer above them will stop running it when they determine which layer they're in). So layer 1 would know they're in layer 1 the second time they run the program. Layer 2 would know on run 3, and so on. [It would take a very long time for deeper layers to determine which layer they're in, so they might give up, but that's immaterial to the point I'm getting to. They might also run out of physical space for gold bars, but they could instead increment a counter - it doesn't matter, but time is the real limitation, not space to accommodate gold bars]. So surely the layers would drift. Layer 0 would diverge in its behaviour first, then layer 1, and so on. The further apart two layers are, the more different they will be. So very quickly the people in each layer cannot alter their reality, because they are not doing the same thing as the layer "above" them. Of course, the people in a given layer might decide to do nice things for the layers beneath them, but they might not. People could make requests to the layer above by, for example, typing in a Gdoc on the screen for the containing layer to read "please end world hunger, but first of all, get an uninterruptible power supply". I *think* that's how it would work, anyway.

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