Scott Draves - Software Artist

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The Electric Sheep offers a free screensaver to participants whose computers work to render elaborate abstract animations.


The Lumen Prize winning video documentary about the Electric Sheep.

The distributed renderer at work.

The lineage of an Electric Sheep, showing its ancestors and descendents.

Archive of all the generations of Sheep.

Electric Sheep

First created in 1999 by Scott Draves, the Electric Sheep is a form of artificial life, which is to say it is software that recreates the biological phenomena of evolution and reproduction though mathematics. The system is made up of humans and software, a cyborg mind with 450,000 participant people and computers all over the Internet at its peak, in the 2000s.

The Electric Sheep is an early example of machine learning art and what is now called AI (vs the symbolic AI of the 90s). The Electric Sheep's Flame algorithm has the same vector floating point approach as neural networks today. A technical explanation was published in The Art of Artificial Evolution in 2007.

This is a distributed system, with all participating computers working together to form a supercomputer that renders animations, called "sheep", that everyone sees. The human participants guide the survival of the fittest by voting for their favorite animations in the flock. You can join this project by downloading the Electric Sheep Screensaver.

Each participating computer follows mathematical instructions, Draves' Flame algorithm, to render its own piece of the larger work, as seen in the table at left. The images are sent back to a central server which compresses them into animations which are sent back out to the viewers. The website shows the family tree for each sheep, including its parents and offspring, and viewers can track family resemblance. The artist's Clade series shows a selection of family members in high resolution.

Like Draves' other software art, the Electric Sheep code is open source, which has allowed it to benefit from code contributions from many enthusiastic programmers. Now Draves serves as head Shepherd on a project with many participants.

The most popular sheep from the current flock can be viewed on the live server, or you can browse the archive.