Hearing Colors

By Nishat Khan

Neil Harbisson is the world’s first legally-recognized cyborg. Born colorblind, Harbisson wanted to find a way to see what other people can see, and not just his black and white world. In 2004, he decided to create a technology that would allow him to see colors. Now, he has an antenna implanted in his skull that gives him the ability to do just that.

Harbisson was diagnosed with achromatopsia, complete color blindness. With his “eyeborg” he doesn’t just see colors. He identifies them by sound frequencies that are converted from color frequencies. He has memorized the frequencies and now considers the antenna to be a part of his body, as it gives him a new sense. After he started wearing the eyeborg, he became able to decipher colors like green and blue, as well as infrared and ultraviolet light, which are outside the spectrum that humans can see.

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With the eyeborg, Harbisson’s perception of just about everything changed, including his perception of race. He said, “I thought black people were black, but they’re not. They’re very very dark orange and people who say they’re white are very very light orange.”

He says that the antenna is very lightweight, but it wasn’t always. First, he had a computer under his shirt, which then became a chip under his skin, and later, he implanted the antenna into his skull.

The mere idea of it all seems very amazing, and you would think people would be begging to be a part of the process, but finding a doctor who was wiling to perform the procedure was very difficult. He was turned down by many physicians and plastic surgeons, but finally, he found a doctor who agreed to perform the operation as long as his identity remained concealed.

Harbisson, after a fight with the UK government, was allowed to have the antenna in his photo, which is now considered to be a part of his body.

Harbisson thought that the whole idea would be very revolutionary, and with the rise of wearable technology, many people would want to extend their senses, but that is not the case. He says that it is because of societal pressures that people are reluctant. He said that he believes that people are afraid of the unknown. That seems to be very true, especially in this day and age.

Though many people are intrigued by wearable technology, and find it fascinating, there are still many people who are extremely against such things as the Google Glass, and the rise of cyborgs. For example, an organization called “Stop the Cyborgs” targets the use of wearable technology such as Google Glass, or a new technology called Narrative, which quite literally puts your life into photographs. Despite this, people seem to be becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of cyborgs, and the future of such technology.

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