Scott Draves (aka Spot) gave a great talk on the Electric Sheep project yesterday to the Digital Arts and New Media program at UC Santa Cruz. Spot is well known for his algorithmic artwork based on cellular automata (CA) and fractals. When I knew him at CMU in 1996-1997, he had been working for several years on a CA-based screen saver called Bomb.
Electric Sheep combines the concepts of screensaver-based massively parallel supercomputers (ala SETI@Home), genetic algorithms, and fractal generated art (using recursive set functions that employ non-linear rather than the standard linear transfer functions) to generate morphing fractal animations that breed and reproduce. Scott’s server now contains thousands of these sheep, both the ones that were popular (received many votes while running on screensavers, and thus reproduced) and ones that weren’t. He has recently teamed up with the famous UCSC chaos theoretician Ralph Abraham to statistically analyze the properties of the sheep stored on his server, looking for correlations between formal properties of the sheep and aesthetic judgments (based on the popularity votes that drive the evolution of the sheep). They are currently focusing on fractal dimension as the correlate.