Colin Allen received a B.A. from the University of London in 1982 and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1989. Both degrees were in philosophy. He joined the Indiana University (IU) faculty in 2004 with a split appointment between the Department of History & Philosophy of Science and the Program in Cognitive Science. In July of 2011, he was appointed the director of the Cognitive Science Program.
Allen's expertise lies in the areas of animal cognition and artificial intelligence, and he is the leading philosopher discussing the nature of mind and cognition in nonhuman animals. His coauthored book, Species of Mind, has had seminal influence on the field of philosophy of cognitive ethology, the study of animal cognition in a biological context. His 2009 coauthored book, Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong, is also groundbreaking, being the first sustained treatment of the prospects for ethically responsible behavior by machines. As associate editor of the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and director of the Indiana Philosophy Ontology project, Allen has also played a major role in developing digital projects that support philosophical research.
Allen was recognized as "Faculty Mentor of the Year" in 2008 by IU's Graduate and Professional Student Organization. He was elected and served as president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology for the 2008-2009 term, and in 2010, received a Humboldt Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, which is given "in recognition of a researcher's entire achievements to date." He was recognized as Provost Professor at IU in 2011.