Neil Harbisson is a painter, a musician, and a cyborg.
Born with a rare form of colorblindness, Harbisson can only see the world in grays. In 2004, he collaborated with a scientist to create a device called the Eyeborg, which he wears everywhere – even in his passport picture. (He argued to the authorities that it was part of his body, not a removable item like glasses.)
The Eyeborg contains a camera on his forehead that registers color, and a computer on the side of his head converts colors from the light spectrum into musical notes that play into an earpiece. "For example if we could hear the frequency of light, then red would sound like an F," Harbisson explains. "Between F and F sharp would be like going from red to orange." The Eyeborg has given Harbisson extraordinary skills, including the ability to perceive infrared.
The first Eyeborg had a computer component the size of a laptop, which Harbisson lugged around in a backpack. Now it's the size of an mp3 player, and he would like to implant the next-generation Eyeborg under his skin. "We are using technology constantly," he says. "Every single day we wear technology in our pockets, we sleep with technology beside our beds – we never separate from technology. The simple next step is to attach all this to our body."
Harbisson uses the Eyeborg to help him paint in color. He also creates sound portraits by scanning people's faces and turning the resulting tones into short musical compositions – he calls the works "sonochromatic." Some of his subjects are friends and family, while others are celebrities he met on the street like Woody Allen and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Harbisson doesn't think the Eyeborg and devices like it should only be used by people with disabilities. In his opinion, no one should be limited to the rather weak senses humans have evolved: "We are all disabled if we compare ourselves with a dog."
(Originally posted: November 4, 2011)
Video: Neil Harbisson's Sonochromatic Portrait #1