Computers are taking over, as science fiction writers warned us. A computer in our local civic center's elevator calls out the floors and thanks us for riding. When we step inside a University of Michigan hospital, a voice invites us to touch its computer screen for a video tour and a printed map.

Walk into almost any hospital and you're in the 21st century. Computers take your temperature, run blood tests, make diagnostic scans and show 3-D pictures of your insides. Computers perform lower-risk, faster-healing noninvasive surgery.On hand-held computers, nurses type temperature readings that are later moved electronically into the hospital's computer network. On wide-area computer networks, top specialists read and consult on the charts and X-rays of patients who are perhaps a continent away.

What's ahead? Someday soon, a worldwide medical consultation network available even to doctors in less advantaged countries. And after that, top specialists giving orders to surgery performing computers from their offices many miles away.

We hope nobody loses a job in '94. But if you lose it in Illinois, you've got a jump on the 21st century. Illinois' unemployment division already started installing Touch Illinois. It consists of multilingual, self-service, interactive touch-screen computers that anyone can use to file a claim, register as a job seeker or look up job openings.

IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center designed the hardware and software that makes this high-tech system so simple to use. They tested and perfected it at the 1992 World Expo in Seville, Spain. There, it ran the banks of touch screens at the fair's self-service three-language information kiosks.

On the screens, fairgoers looked up maps, read about exhibits, played computer games, left messages for friends, and even made restaurant reservations - all without needing any help. Illinois' Department of Employment Security (IDES) commissioned the IBM research team to turn that system into one that would help them give unemployed people better service.

IDES had two big goals: to reduce paperwork and to help people find jobs faster. IBM produced a winner. Its sophisticated software runs under OS/2 on a Token Ring LAN of off-the-shelf IBM PS/2 computers linked by phone to a central host. IDES thinks it'll cut paper use by one-fourth.

If you want to try out Touch Illinois, it's already running in Arlington Heights. There, the receptionist can provide the credit-card type access card that activates one of the bank of touch-screens. Then you can file a compensation claim, register for job services, and fill out employment resumes. You can look up state-wide job openings that match your skills.

As with all computer systems, enhancements are already in the works. One is a quiz for job seekers that helps pinpoint their skills. Another lets people phone in (using touch-tone) the required reports about their work-search activities. There are even thoughts of eventually having clients use the access cards to pick up unemployment payments at any automated teller machine.

IDES hopes to eventually put its touchscreen kiosks in colleges, libraries, and shopping malls. If this idea catches on in other states, you may never need to stand in an unemployment line again.

If you're a collector, think twice before throwing away your best books. To your 21st century grandchildren, they may be relics of the dead past.

Computers have already revolutionized the publishing industry. Most authors now write their books on computer. Some books never leave the computer until they're laser-transferred by modem straight onto a printer's lithographic printing plate.

All of a sudden, thanks to the selling power in 1993 of the catchword "multimedia," a great many people are buying CD-ROM drives. That opens up a whole new delivery route for book publishers.

Paper books cost a lot more to make than CD-ROM disks. They take up a lot more warehouse space. They're made by destroying trees. All those market pressures aren't going unnoticed. We predict that it won't be long before you can't buy a book on paper.

Instead, you'll be able to phone publishers' 800 numbers, search their databases, and download title names, summaries, and sample paragraphs. You'll send a check (probably by electronic transfer), and you'll get the book on CD-ROM disk by return mail.

You'll put it in your CD-ROM drive and read it on your TV screen anywhere in the house. (TV and computer screens will soon be interchangeable and able to display high-resolution pictures, so reading onscreen won't be so tough.) You'll print out unfinished chapters to take along if you're traveling. Or you'll copy them onto a disk that works in your hand-held computer, whose built-in sound will read them to you.

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These hand-held computers will also work like voice recorders. You'll be able to dictate a letter into one while driving to the airport. When you get there, a wire will send the letter to your office, typed and almost ready to mail.

Computers have already changed our conceptions about worldwide communication. Through low-cost Internet and, more recently, cheap faxing devices, we send letters, reports, drawings and photos in a minute to anyone anywhere in the world.

You can buy interactive programs and educational materials on CD disks (CD-I) that work on a computer no bigger than a VCR. A newer, more advanced interactive competitor, 3DO, is 1993's fair-haired technology. Coming yet in this decade is interactive TV (TV-I). It will let you order junk from TV hucksters or tell Connie Chung how you liked her latest interview by punching a few keys on your TV-I remote.

TV-I is coming to us courtesy of telephone companies like AT&T, Sprint, and MCI. It's a longterm project, something few cable TV companies invest in. There'll be a fight to the death over who's going to market and control TV-I. We're betting on the phone companies.

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