Electric Sheep sample imageWhat does your computer do when it’s asleep? Well, if you’re the giving type, it might be searching for intelligent life in the universe, helping find a cure for schizophrenia, or perhaps trying to fold some proteins.

Scott Draves has a different idea. His collaborative computing project, Electric Sheep, is a screensaver that generates semi-random swirly abstract videos. They’re a bit like the “flurry” screensaver that Macs play or the ITunes graphics, except they’re much more complicated and variable, and they don’t have a musical accompaniment.

Each variation, called a “Sheep,” is created by the combination of 150 different variables, so the permutations are many. Using a central server, each instance of the software submits its own sheep to a pool where it recombines with other sheep, in a process not unlike sexual reproduction.

The most successful sheep (determined by humans who press the up arrows to vote for their favorite sheep) are more likely to reproduce, so over time the pool of sheep has become quite wonderful and beautiful.

Not much point to all this except to marvel at the beauty of the sheep, and to think about the implications of using networked computers to produce recombinant creations. In other words, it’s cool!

Draves’ Electric Sheep tour and his 5-page conceptual explanation (PDF) are good introductions. Short description of the project at Grand Text Auto » Spot at Santa Cruz.