Electric Sheep

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Scott Draves: Electric Sheep. In: Generative Art 2003.



The name Electric Sheep comes from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. It realizes the collective dream of sleeping computers from all over the Internet. Electric Sheep is a distributed screen-saver that harnesses idle computers into a render farm with the purpose of animating and evolving artificial life-forms. The project is an attention vortex. It illustrates the process by which the longer and closer one studies something, the more detail and structure appears.

Extended Abstract


Used References

[1] SETI@home searches for a signal from extra-terrestrials in radio-telescope data. It consists of a screen-saver client that is downloaded and installed by users all over the world, and a server that divides-up the data among the clients and collects the results. It puts idle computers to work. SETI@home is the original distributed screen-saver, and its architecture is the inspiration for Electric Sheep's. See http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu.

[2] Fractal flames are the output of a particular Iterated Function System (IFS) fractal rendering algorithm created by the author in 1992. Each image is a histogram of a two-dimensional strange attractor. The flame algorithm contains three innovations: (a) It uses a collection of special functions that are composed with the usual affine matrices. (b) The intensity of each pixel is proportional to the logarithm of the density of the attractor rather than a linear relationship. (c) The color is determined by appending a third coordinate to the chaotic system and looking it up in a palette. Great care is taken to correctly anti-alias the image, both spatially and temporally (with motion blur). Flame is designed to produce images without artifacts, and to reveal as much of the information contained in the attractor as is possible. For more information, see http://flam3.com and the unpublished paper The Fractal Flame Algorithm, available there.

[3] Pressing the up or down arrow key transmits a vote for or against the currently displayed sheep. The server's web interface also has voting controls. In Linux, voting by key-press requires a special version of xscreensaver (part of the gnome desktop interface) to work, so it is not widely (if at all) deployed. Voting works correctly in the Mac OSX and Windows versions. The next version of the Linux client will include the modified version of xscreensaver.

[4] Artificial Evolution for Computer Graphics, Karl Sims, Computer Graphics (Siggraph proceedings), July 1991, available from http://www.genarts.com/karl/genetic-images.html.

[5] Gnutella was initially developed by Justin Frankel of Nullsoft. AOL (the parent company) pulled the plug in early 2000 and ordered Nullsoft to cease all development. The source code of Gnutella was intended to be eventually released under the GPL (thus the "GNU" in its name), but those plans were crushed by AOL's early intervention. Despite the crackdown, the protocol was reverse-engineered and numerous clients appeared. Today it is by far the most popular file-sharing network.


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