From the industrial revolution on, it's been tempting to create visions of an automated future. Whether it was the specter of washing machines (ubiquitous), flying cars or personal robots (not yet), there was no end of 20th Century musing on a future leisure life tended to by our own inventions.

All these visions have been faithfully recounted in books, at world expositions, science museums and Disneyland. And suddenly it all seems very quaint. Without the luxury of time to speculate on the future arriving, we're now basically watching it happen in real time.      I was listening to Ann Livermore of HP earlier today as she spoke about her company's billion-dollar project to invest in "standardized, fully-automated commercial data centers." Based on the work of HP and engineers from EDS (which HP bought barely two years ago), the new vision of managing customer workloads sounds like a series of cool, dark, secure, humming buildings.

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