About the Atlas

The Black Rock Atlas seeks to answer a simple question: How, year after year, does Burning Man create a full-scale city of chaos, and yet consistently engage in cooperative behavior at a scale rarely unseen in society? With its leave no trace ethics, gift economy and free spirit, Burning Man has tapped into formula for human cooperation.

The Black Rock Atlas is a science experiment and art project that tracks the decentralized journey of 15 "Vessels" through the gift economy of Burning Man using GPS technology, generative photography, and human cooperation. Building on the experimental methods of Stanley Milgrim's Six Degrees of Separation experiment, the Atlas seeks to understand how and why people work together in one of the most unique and cooperative environments on earth: Burning Man. How does this event continue to scale, while mantaining a collaborative and enagaged mentality? How does it balance organization and the chaotic self-determination that it is so well-known for? Through a research and design methodology, we explored these questions by sending the 15 vessels across the Playa. What we learned has valuable insights into the nature of human cooperation, and offers wisdom about how we can build our institutions, our online social networks, and our communities to be more creative, optimistic and cooperative.

For the full story, you can read our article in Nautilus. You can read about our results and methods here or on our research paper, and join our mailing list for future projects studing large-scale collaboration, on and off the Playa.

For more information, feel free to reach out to our team.

All photographs are taken by Micah Epstein and are not liscensed for redistribution. Please contact press@burningman.org for redistribution permission.

Results

In the 2018 iteration of the Atlas, two vessels got to their terminii. The average degrees of seperation was 5, although the limited sample size makes this an noisy estimate.

We were also able to recover the GPS data from two of the vessels, which shows the path they took across Burning Man.

To learn more about our results and methods, read our paper on arXiv.

Join Us

We are assembling a vital team of collaborators and volunteers for future projects. If you want to get involved, fill out our form here.

Thank You!

Your participation in the Black Rock Atlas is a key reason of its success. You can find updates on the project here, get in touch with us here, and take a follow-up survey to help us improve here.

If you found a vessel and would like to return it, or have some stories about the experiment you would like to share, please Contact Us!




Team

The Black Rock Atlas Team was created by a team of artists, designers and researchers based out of the MIT Media Lab. We are fascinated with questions about how groups of people come together to solve large-scale, difficult problems - and the role of technology and design in that problem solving.

The team is comprised of Ziv Epstein, Micah Epstein, Christian Almenar, Matt Groh, Niccolo Pescetelli, Esteban Moro, Nick Obradovich, Manuel Cebrian and Iyad Rahwan.

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