Speaker Profile: Cyborg Foundation's Neil Harbisson

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"I don't feel that I'm using technology. I don't feel like I'm wearing technology. I feel like I am technology." 

"I don't feel that I'm using technology. I don't feel like I'm wearing technology. I feel like I am technology." 

Achromatopsia is a rare disease that affects about 1 in 33,000 people. It is described as a non-progressive and hereditary visual disorder characterized by decreased vision, light sensitivity, and total color blindness. Neil Harbisson, a Catalan-raised artist diagnosed with the disease, has never been able to see color. "Not seeing color didn't make me feel disabled, it made me feel socially excluded,” says Harbisson in an interview with Deezen Magazine. “This alienation made me hate color’s existence, but I came to realize that I couldn't ignore color forever - even if I couldn’t see it.” 

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In 2003 Harbisson started a project with computer scientist Adam Montandon that would pave the way towards a new understanding of the possibilities of perception. After several modifications and an anonymous surgery in Barcelona, Harbisson is now the world’s first governmentally recognized cyborg. He currently wears an antenna implanted into the back of his head that allows him to perceive color through sound frequencies transmitted via bone conduction. 

Not only has this extended sense changed Harbisson’s experience, it also calls into question the boundaries of human perception and the future of technology. In fact, the “Eyeborg” is so advanced it allows Harbisson to perceive infrareds and ultra violets unseen to the naked human eye. His senses allow him to create color interpretations of songs, speeches, and he has been known to hold color concerts based on the sound he hears when looking at people’s faces. He is able to hear his food and he even enjoys listening to the works of certain architects.

Color Scores: Transposition of Justin Bieber singing "Baby" (2009)

Color Scores: Transposition of Justin Bieber singing "Baby" (2009)

Though he “comes from a greyscale world,” his life as a cyborg has given him access to a relationship with color more intimate and connected than what most of us will experience. Like his partner-in-cybernetics, Moon Ribas, the extension of his senses is a gateway to an untapped world. During Harbisson’s 2012 TED Talk, he stated: "At the start, I had to memorize the names you give for each color, so I had to memorize the notes, but after some time this information became a perception. I didn't have to think about the notes, and after some time this perception became a feeling."

While cybernetics is currently a niche market, according to Harbisson, it’s only a matter of time before technology becomes increasingly integrated into our bodies "to extend our abilities, our knowledge and our perceptions of reality.” 

Interested in becoming a cyborg? Harbisson, along with childhood friend Moon Ribas, is the co-founder of the Cyborg Foundation, an international organization that encourages people to extend their senses through cybernetics, defends the rights of cyborgs, and aims to promote cyborgism as an art movement. To learn more about the movement click here.

by: Amanda Pickens for Pioneer Mode