I am a writer, technologist, and software engineer. My new book, MEGANETS: HOW DIGITAL FORCES BEYOND OUR CONTROL COMMANDEER OUR DAILY LIVES AND INNER REALITIES (PublicAffairs), explains how the large-scale integration of humans and computers has yielded massive networks beyond our control. The loss of control occurs because the algorithmic workings of these networks incessantly evolve with blinding speed in response to the behavior of billions of humans. And those evolving systems, changing too quickly to track, in turn influence human behavior faster than we can comprehend, creating an ever-tightening feedback loop.
Advance Praise for Meganets
“Meganets will forever change the way you think about the digital world. It is an eye-opening account of the relationships we create––and which are often created for us––online. It is the foundational book explaining the sweeping social changes that created our present and will transform tomorrow. David Auerbach has written both a warning and a blueprint for a better future.”
—Amy Webb, CEO, the Future Today Institute, and author of The Big Nine and The Genesis Machine
“Auerbach has written a fascinating, mind-expanding book that is not about the future of technology but about the future of society. We are still early in our journey toward understanding how the interaction of data and computing are fundamentally changing our lives. Meganets gets us further down that road. Two important takeaways for me: First, the metaverse is not some future state—it is here now, expanding and evolving daily. And second, algorithms don’t run the world—they create a rich, sometimes productive, and sometimes toxic new ecosystem that is an organic interaction of humans and machines already well beyond any person, company, government, or algorithm’s control.”
—Alan Murray, CEO, Fortune Media, and author of Tomorrow’s Capitalist
“Auerbach’s Meganets warns the networked systems that channel our words, images, and ideas are already too complex for humans to govern, however we might try. A necessary book, bracing in places, but not without hope.”
—Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not to be Wrong
“Auerbach is the opposite of a conspiracy theorist: he explains how there’s often ultimately no person, institution, or discernable group behind big systems and the events they shape. He’s interested in how to deal with that fact—building up responsive structures instead of tearing anything down.”
—Jonathan Zittrain, George Bemis Professor of International Law and professor of computer science, Harvard University
“Auerbach knows better than anyone that the very act of writing about technology is an assertion of the preeminence of the human. His signature command of conscience and fact make his work that rarest thing: indispensable.”
—Joshua Cohen, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Natanyahus
“How often do we hear people vainly protest—‘But I’m not on social media!’—as if the problems we confront in our new technological reality could be solved by individual lifestyle choices alone? In fact, the forces that shape our online experience jumped the fence long ago, and there is now no protective barrier between the digital and the ‘real,’ between our online experience and our experience of the entirety of social reality. Algorithms and gamification shape our newsfeeds, but they also shape our transportation routes, our credit ratings, our labor, and even our health. This new reality requires a big-picture thinker ready to take on the problem in all its complexity, and Auerbach proves himself more than up to the task. In stunning, lucid prose and with unsparing analytical acumen, Meganets reveals just how profoundly our world has been transformed over the past generation of technological innovation. Auerbach offers no easy answers, yet the depth of his expertise and the far-reaching scope of his vision already provide a model for the sort of thinking we will need if the beast we have summoned is ever to be tamed.”
—Justin E.H. Smith, Université Paris Cité, author of The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is
“A disturbing examination of how social media technology spun out of control and what it means for the future.”
“Auerbach’s elucidation of how meganets have threatened equity and autonomy is perceptive and searing, and the unorthodox recommendations bring novel insights. This has some refreshing ideas on how to develop a fairer, saner online discourse.”
My first book BITWISE: A LIFE IN CODE, published by Pantheon, was a memoir of my own time in tech and an insider’s view of how tech has changed society over the last generation.
Praise for Bitwise
“[Auerbach] writes well about databases and servers, but what’s really distinctive about this book is his ability to dissect Joyce and Wittgenstein as easily as C++ code.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A profound memoir, a manifesto, and warning about the digital world…Auerbach spins out the secret history of the computational universe we all live in now, filtering insider technical knowhow through a profoundly humanistic point of view like no book since Godel Escher Bach.”
—Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not to Be Wrong
“David Auerbach artfully combines a personal and professional narrative with a philosophical examination of the way the real and digital worlds contrast and intertwine. It is a subject that will take on ever more importance as algorithms continue to gain dramatically more power and influence throughout our world.”
—Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots
“Very attractive (in all senses). The sentences resemble…something both plain and clear, like a Shaker desk–a kind of generous transparency, and about things that are not transparent at all.”
—John Crowley, author of Little, Big
Bitwise is a delightful journey through the history of personal computing. It succeeds brilliantly at conveying what it’s like to be a coder and exploding common stereotypes. I couldn’t stop reading.”
—Scott Aaronson, David J. Bruton Centennial Professor of Computer Science, University of Texas at Austin
“We don’t think right for our world today,” writes programmer and technology writer Auerbach—and putting computers to work solving that fundamental problem is not a panacea. Computers are tools, and while they may one day outthink us, inaugurating what futurists call the singularity, they’re still tools that can reinforce our human limitations even as they help us to work around them: “if we feed them our prejudices, computers will happily recite those prejudices back to us in quantitative and seemingly objective form,” even making our prejudices seem rational. An early employee at both Microsoft and Google, Auerbach is the rare engineer who is also conversant with literature and philosophy, both of which he brings to bear on interpreting his experiences as a builder of these thinking machines and the heuristics and languages that guide them. An eye-opening look at computer technology and its discontents and limitations.
This is a book I’m highly looking forward to. David is among the greatest and most lucid public intellectuals we have, at once informed by the history of philosophy and computer science.
—Reza Negarestani, author of Cyclonopedia and Intelligence and Spirit
With wit and technical insight, former Microsoft and Google engineer Auerbach explains how his knowledge of coding helped form him as a person, at the same time showing how coding has influenced aspects of culture such as personality tests and child-rearing. Auerbach is a natural teacher, translating complex computing concepts into understandable layman’s terms. The anecdotes from the engineering front lines are some of the most entertaining sections, especially when he recounts the rivalry between MSN Messenger Service (which he worked on) and AOL Instant Messenger, and considers Google’s evolution (“Everything was bigger at Google than it had been at Microsoft”). His observations on child-raising are written with such charm that they’ll resonate with readers (he would play “Flight of the Valkyries” when his daughter tried walking because “her struggle and determination reminded me of the triumph I felt on getting a particularly thorny piece of code to work correctly”). This book is an enjoyable look inside the point where computers and human life join.
Bitwise is a valuable resource for readers seeking to understand themselves in this new universe of algorithms, as data points and as human beings.
—The New Republic
Please see Publications for my other writings. Also, my theory of Twin Peaks: The Return may interest David Lynch fans.