Bitwise: A Life in Code, David Auerbach’s thoughtful meditation on technology and its place in society, is a welcome effort to reclaim the middle ground. Auerbach ... recognizes the very real damage it is causing to our political, cultural and emotional lives. But he also loves computers and data, and is adept at conveying the awe that technology can summon, the bracing sense of discovery ... The book is a hybrid of memoir, technical primer and social history. It is perhaps best characterized as a survey not just of technology, but of our recent relationship to technology ... but what’s really distinctive about this book is his ability to dissect Joyce and Wittgenstein as easily as C++ code ... Auerbach’s polymathishness is impressive; it can also be overwhelming. This is not a book that wears its knowledge lightly, and the trail is sometimes meandering, littered with digressive pathways and citations. It’s hard to pin down a clear line of argument. Still, this doesn’t really detract from the overall pleasure of reading. Bitwise is best approached as a series of essays and snippets. This is one of those books you dip in and out of ... We need guides on this journey—judicious, balanced and knowledgeable commentators, like Auerbach.
Auerbach is on solid ground in his analysis, but his logic can sometimes be crude and impersonal. In one chapter he presents a critique of Facebook’s many options for a user’s gender identity ... 'People may not be using terms like ‘pangender’ or ‘biracial’ in fifty years, much less two thousand,' he writes, either unaware or indifferent to the fact that this terminology was hard-won ... Whatever the case, Bitwise bears out the impression of Auerbach as an intelligent translator of the digital world with an insensitive streak ... The memoir form makes the book work, however, because it focuses a very broad subject through the microhistorical lens of a single person. In Auerbach’s case, the first-person voice allows him to sidestep the problem of technological determinism, a grand theory of the effect technology has on our minds. It doesn’t make this INTJ likable, necessarily. But Bitwise is a valuable resource for readers seeking to understand themselves in this new universe of algorithms, as data points and as human beings.
Auerbach argues convincingly that systems that record and analyze our data have the potential to shape our online and offline experiences, yet he writes too many tangents offering perspectives on gaming, nerd culture, and parenting ... A critical warning from a programming expert on computation's ability to shape our lives. Readers of first-person accounts of tech's coming of age will appreciate this insider point of view.
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 ... One of the author’s asides, which fuels a central theme, concerns the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ... Just so, our machines are deficient in many ways, as with Google’s effort to scan millions of books into a Library of Babel that is, in fact, a mess ... Auerbach brings his discussion to a close by counseling that we not worry too much about what, say, big technology companies are planning to do with our data ... An eye-opening look at computer technology and its discontents and limitations.
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 ... Connections to specific literary and philosophical works stretch a reader’s patience, and lengthy asides into coding parallels in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and early text-based video games will entertain gamers but require too much explanation for the uninitiated. That said, his observations on child-raising are written with such charm that they’ll resonate with readers ... The coding details aside, this book is an enjoyable look inside the point where computers and human life join.