Electric Sheep

This computer screen saver is incredibly beautiful, dynamic, amazingly hypnotic, free (!), and literally alive. You can get the full story here, but Electric Sheep is Scott Draves‘ open source, distributed computing project which creates and disseminates new user-generated and/or computer-generated fractals to everyone who’s downloaded the screen saver. I’ve been running the Mac version for about four or five years and find myself involuntarily staring at it for long periods. Over time, you’ll actually see it evolve, and get to know family trees. I sometimes recognize dynamic fractals patterns I’ve seen elsewhere in nature. I’ve seen fractals that resemble the inside of cells (my background is in biology). I’m also a scuba diver, and I’ve seen fractals that especially resemble lots of marine creatures, such as Nudibranchs and Barnacles and Sea Cucumbers and more. Plus, classic cloudscapes and NASA pics of galaxies forming as well as sliced/polished rock geological forms.

As I understand it, there are essentially three ways sheep come into existence. People can login to the website and use a GUI to create their own sheep to release into the ‘flock.’ Sheep have a finite lifetime, and users can vote on the sexiest/prettiest or least favorite sheep by pressing the up or down arrows when they appear on their screens. Sheep with favorable ratings get to ‘breed’ more. When they breed, sheep are genetically recombined to form diverse offspring, which resemble various aspects of each parent. There is also an automatic genetic algorithm that occasionally generates and lets loose new sheep with fresh DNA into the flock. Interestingly, just as in nature, when the algorithm is creating new sheep it analyzes them in various ways to make sure they aren’t deformed or utterly pointless (i.e. just as embryos in the womb of mammals are eliminated if there are genetic or developmental problems).

You can get the screen saver for any platform. I’ve installed both Mac and PC versions a few dozen times on various friends’ computers over the years and can assure you it’s adware/virus free.

– Mark Lenhart

I’d heard about Electric Sheep through the years. Was always curious, but for some reason never bothered to try it until recently. I now find myself pausing regularly to gaze at the sheep whenever I get antsy or hit a wall while working. One unexpected side-effect: my Sheep-gawking moments also serve as much-needed stretch breaks.

– Steven Leckart

 

Here are some fractals (top) and a mini "Sheepumentary" (bottom) about the project: