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Electric Sheep
Scott Draves, DreamWorks SKG

Track: Interfaces and Services
Date: Thursday, February 12
Time: 11:45am - 12:30pm
Location: California Ballroom B

The Interpretation of Dreams: An Explanation of the Electric Sheep Distributed Screen-Saver. 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 screensaver that harnesses idle computers into a render farm with the purpose of animating and evolving artificial lifeforms. It uses a P2P network to share animations and coordinate their evolution.

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. Electric Sheep was inspired by the SETI@home project, but instead of searching for aliens in radio-telescope data, it brings brings artificial organisms to life. The clients (Linux, Windows, and OS X) are open source, and anyone can participate without charge and without identifying themselves.

A user may vote for a sheep by pressing the up arrow key when that sheep is displayed on his or her screen. Popular sheep live longer, and are more likely to reproduce. Hence, the user's preferences provide the fitness function for an aesthetic evolutionary algorithm. There is no central server. Clients connect to each other with a P2P network. The votes and the animations are shared over this network. Evolution happens in this network landscape.

I believe the free flow of code is an increasingly important social and artistic force. The proliferation of powerful computers with high-bandwidth network connections forms the substrate of an expanding universe. The electric sheep and we, their shepherds, are colonizing this new frontier.

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