it actually more resembles a network than it does

a spatial design. The new companies are fast, quick, flexible. They are made up of a small entrepreneurial elite -- a core professional and technical staff and a "just in time" workforce. In network organization, the key is to be as flexible and transitory as the markets, the production and the "just in time" technologies.

So in manufacturing, we are headed toward workerless factories. In the service industries, we are headed toward virtual companies or small networks. In the past, when one sector has mechanized, a new sector has emerged just in time to absorb the dislocated labor. That was the history of the Industrial Revolution.

When agriculture mechanized, a lot of farmers were displaced, but they found jobs in Henry Ford's auto plant. When manufacturing began to mechanize in the '50s and '60s, a lot of dislocated workers could be retrained for white-collar work. Now all three traditional sectors are moving into the Information Age, and yes, we do have a new sector for employment emerging -- the knowledge sector. This is the essential employment sector of the Information Age technology revolution -- the engineers, the scientists, the highly skilled technicians, the educators, the writers, the producers, the consultants and the professionals. And many government leaders I speak with are hoping that we will create as many new jobs in this sector as jobs eliminated in the traditional sectors, while we make the shift from the Industrial to Information Age. For the sake of argument, let's assume we can retrain and educate a whole generation for knowledge-sector work. The chances are likely that there will never be enough jobs in the knowledge sector of America or any country to accommodate the millions and millions of people let go in the traditional industrial sectors, blue- and white-collar manufacturing and service. The reason is, what separates the Industrial from the Information Age is that the Industrial Age used mass human labor to produce the goods and services of the economy. That is its signature.

The Information Age, by contrast, relies on small, elite workforces, highly paid, highly skilled, accompanied by increasingly sophisticated intelligent technology. Already we need the best engineers, but we get unemployed, garden-variety engineers because of computer-aided design. These are breathtaking technologies. The Industrial Age ended slave labor. The Information Age is going to end mass wage labor. I believe that is the historical divide we find ourselves on.

GT: If this is the scenario that actually faces us, the future would seem to be very grim.

Rifkin: Let me share with you three statistics. The International Labor Organization put out its unemployment figure this year. There are a billion people on this planet unemployed and underemployed this year. That's the best that the Industrial Age could do. We are now in the sunset years of this great economic revolution. Does anyone for a moment believe that the Information Age will do better as we move to elite work forces? Yes, we are going to create jobs at the top -- a lot of new jobs, but they will never be mass labor. You will never see thousands of factory workers coming out of the factory at Genentech or Microsoft. It is

elite labor.

The second statistic is a chilling one. The 356 richest people on this planet today -- their combined wealth equals the bottom 40 percent of humanity, two-and-a-half billion people.

The third and final statistic, 75 percent of the jobs in this global economy are what we call simple, repetitive tasks -- so simple that they are already potentially replaceable with existing intelligent technology. And we have only begun to move into this revolution.

This technology revolution is a double-edged sword. It could lead to a grim future or it

Blake Harris  |  Editor