This [little bit] of a BBC 4 program discusses the 240 year old automaton build by Pierre Jaquet-Droz, a Swiss watchmaker that is capable of being programmed to write whatever you like through a series of replaceable cogs that drive a collection of stacked cams which in turn cause the doll to produce really rather beautiful script, after it has dipped its quill pen in ink.
According to an article in the New York Times, two economists who began with the optimistic goal of documenting the “cornucopia of innovation that is going on” realized along the way that “as the employment picture failed to brighten in the last two years, [they should change] course to examine technology’s role in the jobless recovery.” What they discovered, they believe, is that as the forms of automation have become increasingly sophisticated, it has begun to affect diverse parts of the jobs market. Close to ten percent of sales positions have been lost, for example, which would seem an important place to have a human, but I am guessing that their argument is that better technologies — data mining, etc. — have made it possible to have a smaller team be more targeted in their work. Oof.
I should note that I have not read the book and the article itself makes it clear that their conclusions are already being debated within economics. (And economics, it’s becoming increasingly clear, is really more of an interpretive practice than a science.)