As part of our Creative Technology series with iQ by Intel, PSFK is interviewing unique artists to gain insights about how they use technology to enhance creativity and push the boundaries of their art.
Neil Harbisson is a cyborg. Born without the ability to see color, he has hacked his own body with a device, the ‘eyeborg,’ that translates color information into sound – now he effectively ‘hears’ color instead of seeing it. In 2004, Harbisson was not allowed to renew his UK passport because the passport office would not allow him to appear with electronic equipment. Harbisson wrote back insisting that the eyeborg should be considered part of his body. After weeks of correspondence, he became the first official cyborg recognized by a government.
We caught up with Neil after his fantastic presentation and performance at the PSFK CONFERENCE in April to go a bit deeper into his work, his identity and his plans for improving the human race.
Explain how you became a cyborg.
I was born with achromatopsia, a condition that means I see the world in grayscale. At first, doctors told me I was colorblind; then, they thought it was a very severe case of color-blindness and finally, they realized that I could only see in black and white.
When I moved to the UK to study music composition, I heard a lecture by Adam Montandon, a cybernetics expert. He helped to create my first ‘eyeborg,’ which lets me hear light waves. The very first thing I looked at with it, outside the classroom, was a red noticeboard. It made the note F, the lowest sound on the spectrum. Red has been my favourite color for years.
Your eyeborg lets you ‘see’ color- can you explain a bit more about the technology?
Color is basically hue, saturation, and light. Right now, I can see light in shades of grey, but I can’t see its saturation or hue. The eyeborg detects hue, and converts it into a sound frequency that I can hear as a note . It also translates the saturation of the color into volume. So if it’s a vivid red I will hear it more loudly.
In the beginning, I had cables coming out of my head, snaking down into a big backpack with a laptop. It made people a bit uncomfortable. But now the eyeborg translates color into sound using a chip at the back of my skull. It makes noise by pressing against my head and I hear through bone conduction.
I still have to recharge myself at a power socket, but I’m working on ways to use my blood circulation instead. In the near future I’m having it osteointegrated – which means that part of the device will be put inside my skull, so the sound will resonate much better.
To find about how Neil’s eyeborg has extended his human senses and his thoughts on what it means to be a cyborg, continue reading here on iQ by Intel.
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