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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

Real-life cyborg hears colour as sound

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Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

(Neil Harbisson image by Carlosramirex, public domain)

A man with complete colour blindness has had a device embedded into his brain that allows him to hear colour as sound.

Born with complete colour blindness, Neil Harbisson's life used to be like living in a black-and-white film. His condition, called achromatopsia, means that he can see no colours at all.

Because of this, in 2004, he had a device called the "eyeborg" implanted in his skull by his friend Adam Montandon. The eyeborg is a head-mounted camera that converts colours into audio waves in real-time — by memorising which pitches referred to which colours, Harbisson was able to "hear" the colours in front of him. When this is a naturally occurring condition, it is called synaesthesia; Harbisson calls his own cyborg perception "sonochromatism".

He's also the first man in the world to be officially recognised as a cyborg by a government — after a passport photo in which he was wearing the eyeborg (well, as it's implanted, it's not like he can take it off) was turned down because it had funny business in it.

Listening to him talk about the change in his life and his change in perception is fascinating.

"It is not," he says in the short film Cyborg Foundation (embedded below), "the union between the eyeborg and my head that makes me a cyborg, but the union between the software and my brain. My body and technology have united."

Read more about Harbisson, his implant and his art on his website — and for more insight into the experiences of the world's first cyborg, go have a listen to his TED talk.


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