Keynote Speakers - John Kevin O'Regan

John Kevin O'Regan
Université Paris Descartes

How to Make a Robot that Feels


Consciousness is often considered to have a "hard" part and a not-so-hard part. With the help of work in artificial intelligence and more recently in embodied robotics, there is hope that we shall be able solve the not-so-hard part and make artificial agents that understand their environment, communicate with their friends, and most importantly, have a notion of "self" and "others".

But will such agents feel anything? Building the feel into the agent will be the "hard" part.

I shall explain how action provides a solution. Taking the stance that feel is a way of acting in the world provides a way of accounting for what has been considered the mystery of "qualia", namely why there is something it's like to experience a feel, why they have phenomenal "presence", and why they are the way they are.

As an application of this "sensorimotor" approach to the problem of feel, I shall show how it explains why colors are the way they are, that is, why they are experienced as colors rather than say sounds or smells, and why for example the color red looks red to us, rather than looking green, say, or feeling like the sound of a bell.


After studying theoretical physics at Sussex and Cambridge Universities, Kevin O'Regan moved to Paris in 1975 to work in experimental psychology at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. Following his Ph. D. on eye movements in reading he showed the existence of an optimal position for the eye to fixate in words. His interest in the problem of the perceived stability of the visual world led him to question established notions of the nature of visual perception, and to predict, with collaborators, the phenomenon of "change blindness".

His current work involves exploring the empirical consequences of the "sensorimotor" approach to vision and sensation in general. He is particularly interested in the problem of the nature of phenomenal consciousness, which he addresses experimentally and theoretically in relation to sensory substitution, sensory adaptation, pain, color, and space perception. He is interested in applying this work to robotics.

Kevin O'Regan is currently director of the Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Université Paris Descartes and CNRS.