Kevin O'Regan - "How to build a robot that feels"

Monday, 10 September, 2012 - 09:30 to 11:00

Recording of the speaker's talk at the Barcelona Brain and Technology Summer School, September 2012. Listen also to an interview with this and other speakers at

"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 seems at first to be the "hard" part.

I shall explain how the sensorimotor approach proposed in my recent book (O'Regan, 2011), provides a solution by taking the counterintuitive stance that feel is a way of acting in the world. This provides a way of accounting for what has been considered the mystery of "qualia", namely why feels are very difficult to describe to others and even to oneself, why they can nevertheless be compared and contrasted, and, most important, why there is something it's like to experience them: that is, why they have phenomenal "presence".

As applications of this sensorimotor approach, I shall show how it predicts change blindness, sensory substitution, and makes a start to explaining why colors are experienced the way they are.


To the extent that the sensorimotor approach dissipates the "hard" problem of consciousness, building feel into robots becomes possible."