Neil Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, a rare condition that leaves around 1 in 30,000 people completely colorblind. But Harbisson embraced the opportunities afforded by modern technology – and the human brain’s ability to adapt its methods of perception – and convinced doctors to implant an antenna into the back of his head through which he can now ‘hear colours’ through bone conduction.
In what may be a landmark moment marking the change from biological and technological evolution in humans, Harbisson is the person to be officially recognized as a cyborg by a government. Furthermore, the antenna doesn’t just compensate for a deficiency – it also augments his senses allowing him to perceive things most of us cannot: parts of the spectrum that are invisible to humans, such as infrareds and ultraviolets, as well as signals from phones and satellites.
I am a cyborg. And cyborg comes from the union between ‘cybernetics’ and ‘organism’. And that’s how I feel… My antenna is a body part.
…Before, I realised that people made connections between things or objects, and I could not see the link between these two objects. For example, the colour of the sky and the colour of someone’s eyes – in the greyscale world there’s no connection.
Now that I can hear colour, I have such connections – and connections go beyond that as well. Because when I hear sounds I can relate the sound to an object or a colour. So if I hear the G# of a taxi, the horn of a taxi, that to me is related to lime, because it sounds just like a lime.
(Synchronicity note: I came across this documentary last week at Colossal and decided I would post it when I got the chance. On an unrelated note, I took two of my children yesterday to ‘Robotronica‘ at the Queensland University of Technology. Upon arriving, I was looking down talking to my kids about what we would do, and I literally almost ran smack into Neil Harbisson, who was walking quickly in the other direction on his way to giving a presentation.)