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Humans need not apply.

Information technology is moving out of the office and across the landscape to reshape how workers do their jobs -- on farms, in offices, in factories, in hospitals and in classrooms. By the year 2010, "infotech" will effect many positive changes, making many jobs more challenging and rewarding, but it may also lead to job loss, depersonalization or boredom.

Farmers will primarily work indoors, where information will come to them. They'll oversee extensively automated smart farms. Sensing technologies will feed data into computers, which will analyze soil conditions, plant health, degree of ripeness, fertilizer mix and moisture content. The seeds of these smart farms already exist: bar codes now identify individual cows and provide information about their health status; the codes are read by feeding machines, which then decide the proper feed mixture for the animal.

The salespeople of 2010 will have little use for an office at headquarters. They will increasingly work on the road and at their customers' offices. Sales vehicles will be equipped with portable cellular phones with voice recognition, digital faxes, notebook computing and perhaps built-in video-conferencing capability. Technologies will make it possible to transmit orders directly from the customer's site to the factory. Images will become increasingly important for selling. Customers will want to see what they are buying and then try it out by using simulations.

In health care, far more than today, the physicians of 2010 will work in teams that include technicians, nurses and therapists, as well as other physicians. Consulting with colleagues and expert-system assistants will become routine. Expert systems will supplement and enhance the physician's skills, filling knowledge and skill gaps, providing advice for complicated procedures and doing routine diagnoses.

Expert systems also will diagnose routine conditions without consulting physicians. Patients may dial up an expert system on-line or by phone, feed in their medical history with a smart card and receive a diagnosis.

In manufacturing, automation will continue to decrease the share of workers involved. One result will be "dark areas" -- sections of a factory with no people and therefore no lighting or other features needed by human workers. Usually, however, workers will be on hand to monitor and maintain robots and other equipment.

Computer-aided design and computer-assisted manufacturing systems will tie all branches of a factory into design. As designers consider their options, they may query the financial people on the costs of option A versus option B. Similarly, they may consult the human-resources department to see if workers with the required expertise are available. Exchanges like the following may become commonplace: "Sorry, Sue, but the two people you need for procedure one are tied up with another project until next month. We can provide the help you need for the second procedure. Video me at my desk when you decide. I e-mailed Mark that you may need him soon."

-- Adapted from "Jobs and Infotech," The Futurist, January/February 1994, published by the World Future Society in Bethesda, Md.
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Title Annotation:The Future
Publication:Financial Executive
Date:Mar 1, 1994
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