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Town Hall Seattle: Science Series

Town Hall’s Science series is dedicated to understanding the world around us. Whether we’re hearing from a legendary physicist or a UW graduate student, the Science series explores math, biology, chemistry, the environment, and so much more.

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Mar 22, 2023

Are the autonomous digital forces jolting our lives – as uncontrollable as the weather and plate tectonics – transforming life, society, culture, and politics?

David Auerbach’s exploration of the phenomenon he has identified as the meganet begins with a simple, startling revelation: There is no hand on the tiller of some of the largest global digital forces that influence our daily lives: from corporate sites such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, YouTube, Instagram, and Reddit to the burgeoning metaverse encompassing cryptocurrencies and online gaming to government systems such as China’s Social Credit System and India’s Aadhaar.

As we increasingly integrate our society, culture, and politics within a hyper-networked fabric, Auerbach explains how the interactions of billions of people with unfathomably large online networks have produced a new sort of beast: ever-changing systems that operate beyond the control of the individuals, companies, and governments that created them.

Meganets, Auerbach explains, have a life of their own. Actively resisting attempts to control them, they can produce spontaneous, unexpected social groups and uprisings that could not have even existed twenty years ago. Constantly modifying themselves in response to user behavior, which can result in collectively authored algorithms no one can control, these enormous invisible organisms seem to be the new minds of the world, increasingly commandeering our daily lives and inner realities.

David B. Auerbach is a writer, technologist, and software engineer who worked at Google and Microsoft after graduating from Yale University. His writing has appeared in the Times Literary SupplementMIT Technology ReviewThe Nationn+1TabletThe Daily Beast, and Bookforum, among many other publications. He was Slate’s technology columnist from 2013 to 2016, and he was nominated for a National Magazine Award for his coverage of the hearings. He teaches the history of computation at the New Centre for Research and Practice and is a frequent guest at their events. He has lectured around the world on technology, literature, and philosophy and, in addition, has done scholarly research on James Joyce, William Shakespeare, and artificial intelligence. His first book, Bitwise: A Life in Code, was published by Pantheon in 2018.

Third Place Books