Author, technologist, and former software engineer David Auerbach, who has worked as a developer for both Microsoft and Google, has written a new book that illuminates a startling lack of control over massive tech networks. In “Meganets: How Digital Forms Beyond Our Control Commandeer Our Daily Lives and Inner Realities,” Auerbach introduces the idea of “meganets” — ever-evolving and opaque data networks that influence how people see the world. The primary problem with these networks is that neither their owners or governments can control them, leading to “groupthink” and the breakdown of online and public discourse, threatening social and economic stability.
The issue came to Auerbach’s attention after the spread of social media, when he identified feedback loops that exploited individuals and algorithms, leading to the dissolution of public discourse. Although people working in these meganets may recognize the lack of control over these systems, there may not be much they can do as individuals — they may just be too complex to stop. Auerbach argues that the best solution may be to try to mitigate the dysfunctional effects of these meganets and exert indirect influence over them.