💡 6 Signals, Vol. 3

A curated list of stories that tell us something about the future of reality, from deep dives to pleasure reads.

Welcome to 6 Signals, a weekly compilation of six different stories from around the web. Whether it’s related to art, tech, politics, culture, or media, each story points to emerging trends and futures.

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This week, we look at the creator economy booming in the corporate world, the discovery of ‘time cells’ in the brain for mental time travel, the complicated community response to an AI programming tool, world population decline, the problem with U.S. privacy law, and the prospect of biohackers using mRNA for self-enhancement. Note: the final signal is not real news, but rather a speculative scenario as part of The Economist’s What If? series.

Job listings for creators have increased 489,000% since 2016

The term “creator economy” has become one of the biggest buzzwords of the last year or so, emerging as platforms like Spotify scooped up exclusivity deals and swirling around the rise of companies like Substack. But the growth of the creator economy has propelled it far past the status of buzzy trend. Hiring data shows that companies across a wide variety of industries have cranked hiring for positions related to creators up to a fever pitch, cementing it as one of the most dominant forces in business and shaping the jobs of the future.

But the majority of “creator” job listings are not seeking to hire actual creators. Instead, they are often hiring engineers or personnel to create products specifically for and to interact with creators, showing that creators are influencing the hiring decisions and products developed by major tech companies. 

See more at The Business of Business.

Scientists Discover 'Time Cells' In the Brain That Enable 'Mental Time Travel'

When we recall past events in our lives, we can often mentally replay an experience in the exact sequential order that it happened. Revisiting these episodic memories may feel like a seamless and ordinary activity, but the ability for our brains to encode events in temporal order—and then draw them up as sequential recollections later on—is an ongoing scientific mystery.

Now, a team led by Leila Reddy, a neuroscientist at the Brain and Cognition Research Center (CerCo) at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, has isolated some of the neural pathways in our brains that are responsible for recording and recalling the sequence of time.  

Reddy and her colleagues carefully monitored brain activity in human patients as they completed tasks that required sequential memory. The results “suggest a robust representation of time in the human hippocampus,” a structure embedded deep in the brain, according to a study published on Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience

See more at Vice.

GitHub’s new tool uses AI to craft code. Some developers are furious

Copilot launched last week in an invite-only Technical Preview, promising to save time by responding to users’ code with its own smart suggestions. Those suggestions are based on billions of lines of public code that users have publicly contributed to GitHub, using an AI system called Codex from the research company OpenAI.

While Copilot might be a major time saver that some have hailed as “magic,” it’s also been met with skepticism by other developers, who worry that the tool could help circumvent licensing requirements for open source code and violate individual users’ copyrights.

See more at Fast Company.

For The First Time In Centuries, The World's Population Will Decline In A Few Decades

The world’s population currently stands at around 7.8 billion people. That number is forecasted to grow over the next few decades and peak in 2064 at around 9.7 billion people, before falling to 8.8 billion by 2100, according to a new study published in The Lancet.

“The last time that global population declined was in the mid 14th century, due to the Black Plague. If our forecast is correct, it will be the first time population decline is driven by fertility decline, as opposed to events such as a pandemic or famine,” Stein Emil Vollset, lead study author and Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), told IFLScience.

See more at IFLScience.

Weak US Privacy Law Hurts America’s Global Standing

Data risks posed by domestic firms, from widespread data collection to unrestricted data selling, also demand action from Washington. While numerous privacy bills purporting to address these problems circulate the halls of Congress, none have become law. Senator Richard Blumenthal recently said of American privacy regulation, “Europe’s way ahead of us. China is about to go ahead of us. The rest of the world is leaving us behind.”

The weakness of American privacy law hurts US national security by allowing sensitive citizen data to be widely sold and shared with third parties—with little or no transparency or safeguards. It further undermines trust in Silicon Valley throughout the world, hindering the competitiveness of American technology firms, as many countries advance data regulations driven, in part, by Silicon Valley’s unrestrained data practices. And lastly, amid talk of “digital authoritarianism,” the lack of strong privacy law only diminishes US soft power. American rhetoric on techno-democracy is less credible when corporate surveillance runs rampant at home.

See more at WIRED.

What if biohackers injected themselves with mRNA?

Members of the Witnesses of Bioinformatic Freedom, a biohacking-rights group, demand the right to alter their own biology. An imagined scenario from 2029.

The possibility of using mRNA for self-enhancement first emerged in 2024, after the Paris Olympics. In 2012, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, two of the main actors in the intellectual development of therapeutic mRNA, had shown that carefully designed mRNA molecules could transiently raise the level of erythropoietin (epo), a protein hormone which stimulates production of red blood cells, in mice. More epo means more red blood cells, which means more oxygen delivered to working muscles, which improves physical performance. In the months after the Paris Olympics rumours began to circulate that some competitors had been taking regular injections of epo-producing mRNA. But the tests available failed to show conclusive evidence of foul play. New tests were then developed in time for the 2028 games.

Meanwhile, a group of biology doctoral students at the University of Belgrade began producing and distributing an mRNA molecule said to enhance learning abilities by boosting the synthesis of small proteins involved in memory formation. The government launched an investigation after a student, Luka Dragotin, died of a mysterious autoimmune complaint in 2025. The test scores of the students who had been dosing themselves with mRNA did seem to have risen relative to those of their peers. The doctoral students went to prison for 15 years, and the government imposed strict new regulations on mRNA technology.

See more at The Economist.

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