The notion of the Universal Machine is an 'article of faith' in computer science. Although one may conceive of a generic serial processing computer as a formless hardware vehicle which takes on a 'shape' determined by the currently running code; any real world machine, such as a robot, has unalterable physical characteristics which constrain and define its nature. My machine, on the contrary, is a defined by its eccentric physical structure.
In robotics circles, one sometimes hears the expression 'fix it in software'. This expression is emblematic of a basic precept of computer science and robotics, the separation of hardware an software. Implicit in this is the assumption that hardware is on a 'lower level' than software. Historically this idea is directly descended from the Cartesian duality, the 'mind-body split'. I find that dualism problematic, and it follows that ideas modeled on it, such as the software/hardware split, must also be problematic. Therefore, I have attempted, in Petit Mal, to forge an alternative to this dualistic structure.
My approach has been that the limitations and quirks of the mechanical structure and the sensors are not problems to be overcome, but generators of variety, possibly even of 'personality'. I believe that a significant amount of the 'information' of which the behavior of the robot is constructed, is inherent in the mechanical behavior of the hardware, not in the code. I intentionally chose cheap, under-engineered (but not absolutely reliable) solutions to expensive, over-engineered totally reliable solutions. Part of the rationalisation for this was that the very fallibility of the system would generate unpredictability, behavior, personality.
My experience has shown that optimization of the robots behavior (correction for the 'inefficient' aspects) results in a decrease in the behaviors which to an audience confer upon the device 'personality'. In sense then, my device is 'anti-optimised' in order to induce the maximum of personality. Nor is it a simple task to build a machine which malfunctions reliably, which teeters on the threshold between functioning and non-functioning. This is as exacting an engineering task as building a machine whose efficiency is maximised.