Machines have always displaced workers to some extent, but two MIT researchers say that a combination of technologies, including robotics, computerized inventory control, voice recognition, and online commerce, has only accelerated the job losses. From the NYT:
Faster, cheaper computers and increasingly clever software, the authors say, are giving machines capabilities that were once thought to be distinctively human, like understanding speech, translating from one language to another and recognizing patterns. So automation is rapidly moving beyond factories to jobs in call centers, marketing and sales -- parts of the services sector, which provides most jobs in the economy. During the last recession, the authors write, one in 12 people in sales lost their jobs, for example. And the downturn prompted many businesses to look harder at substituting technology for people, if possible. Since the end of the recession in June 2009, they note, corporate spending on equipment and software has increased by 26 percent, while payrolls have been flat.
The researchers, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, are out with an e-book on the subject, "Race Against the Machine."