Friday, April 30, 2010

What Androids Have Been Dreaming

I've regained an interest in screensavers since the 27" iMac assumed a prominent place in our living room. So I figured I'd check in on the old Electric Sheep project:

Electric Sheep is a collaborative abstract artwork founded by Scott Draves. It's run by thousands of people all over the world, and can be installed on any ordinary PC or Mac. When these computers "sleep", the Electric Sheep comes on and the computers communicate with each other by the internet to share the work of creating morphing abstract animations known as "sheep". The result is a collective "android dream", an homage to Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

Anyone watching one of these computers may vote for their favorite animations using the keyboard. The more popular sheep live longer and reproduce according to a genetic algorithm with mutation and cross-over. Hence the flock evolves to please its global audience. You can also design your own sheep and submit them to the gene pool.

The new animations are quite a bit different than what I remember from the turn of the century version of the project. Since users can now design their own patterns (i.e., math), it has shifted from being a pure experiment in using genetic processes to evolve art to a hybrid between genetics and user generated content. Basically, the graphics are more colorful, sharply drawn and symbolic (e.g., with a heart or infinity sign at the center of a mandala) now; less amorphously monochrome.

Regardless, they look awesome on a 27" iMac. Just note that from a power saving point of view, this is not the best screensaver, since your computer is churning away rendering frames to contribute to the animations while it is running.

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