Kevin O'Regan


"How to Build Consciousness into a Robot: the Sensorimotor Approach"

Abstract: The problem of consciousness has been divided by philosophers into the problem of Access Consciousness and the problem of Phenomenal Consciousness or "raw feel". Access Consciousness is something that we can logically envisage building into a robot because it is a cognitive capacity giving rise to behaviors or behavioral tendencies or potentials. On the other hand, Phenomenal Consciousness or "raw feel" seems a priori to be problematic, since we do not know what we really mean by "feel". I suggest that three main properties are what characterize feel: the fact that feels are different from each other, that there is structure in these differences, and that feels have sensory presence. Then, by taking a sensorimotor approach to feel, it is possible to account for these properties in a natural way and furthermore to make counter-intuitive empirical predictions which have recently been confirmed. In conclusion, if we take the sensorimotor approach, building raw feel into a robot becomes a theoretical possibility, even if we are a long way from actually attaining it.

Biography: After studying theoretical physics at Sussex and Cambridge Universites, 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 discover, with collaborators, the phenomenon of "change blindness". His current work involves exploring the empirical consequences of a new "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 in relation to sensory substitution, and theoretically in relation to color perception. He is interested in applying this work to robotics. Kevin O'Regan is currently director of the Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, CNRS, Université Paris Descartes, Paris France.