Electric Sheep, Scott Draves, and the Flame Algorithm.
September 16, 2015
Scott Draves introduced the Flame Algorithm 25 years ago. This video is not only beautiful to watch, but also explains Electric Sheep, a project that makes use of computers around the world to act as a virtual super computer that renders independantly generated art.
"What is the relationship between man and machine? Is open source a sustainable way to run a creative society? Can digital creations have the subtlety we know in the natural world? These are the issues addressed by my work.
I create my art by writing software that runs an internet distributed supercomputer consisting of 450,000 computers and people. The first versions of this algorithm date from 1992. Each image is a form of artificial life, with its own genome, thousands of numbers that define how it looks and moves.
I created this collective intelligence---the Electric Sheep---in 1999 and it has been evolving and developing since. The system is based on a open source screensaver that anyone can download and run. All the computers work together to render the animations, or "sheep" (it takes an hour to render each frame, or one day of work per second or animation). All the people contribute their creativity and aesthetics, via open source, crowd source, and by voting. Sheep that gain favorable votes mate with each other and reproduce according to a genetic algorithm. Hence the flock evolves to satisfy its human audience. This popular version makes draft designs that are the basis for my fine art.
I use the screensaver as a design laboratory and factory to realize my museum-quality collectors' edition pieces. I select sheep that satisfy my aesthetics, redo them in high definition and slow motion, and edit and assemble them into final pieces. I pick sheep for how they look, because of their relationship to each other or a theme, or to tell a story. The final creations are like paintings.
Sales of this fine art support the open source code and server network used to create it, making the flock self-sustaining. By applying supercomputer power and the techniques of artificial intelligence to image synthesis I create works beyond geometry, beyond the mechanical, beyond the limitations of a single human creator, all with a fine level of detail rarely seen in digital art. I hope when you see them you will be more open to accepting the machine as part of yourself."