A colour blind artist claims he can now ‘hear’ colours after having an ‘eyeborg’ antenna implanted into his skull. Neil Harbisson, 31, has been wearing an external electronic eye for 10 years which picks up colour frequencies through a camera and transforms them into sound vibrations. Mr Harbisson, of Camden, London, was born with achromatopsia, a rare condition which means he can only see in black and white. But he has now convinced surgeons to implant the chip inside his skull so that he can perceive more intricate colours. A wifi connector inside the chip allows him to hear images sent from a mobile phone – without even looking at them.
The cyborg antenna – or ‘eyeborg’ – is composed of a camera on one end and an audio input on the other end. The audio input – which is now implanted inside the back of his skull – allows him to receive the visual spectrum captured by his camera via bone vibrations. Every colour has a different vibration, meaning different paintings, images or even faces have a different note or sound. This audio input was once worn on the outside of his head, but now it has been implanted inside his skull – much like a cochlear implant – he has a greater depth of colour perception. The new wi-fi and bluetooth connectors in the chip also means he will be the first person in the world to experience an image without actually seeing it for himself.
Mr Harbisson had the implant inserted during a series of operations in Barcelona between December and this month, and will be demonstrating it for the first time tomorrow. He said: ‘This announcement is not the launch of a new product and it is not the presentation of new technology – it is the presentation of a new body part that will allow us to extend our senses in unimaginable ways.’
Project spokesperson Mariana Viada said: ‘The other antenna was attached, but this one is inside. ‘There is now more distinction between the colours – it is much wider and more definite. ‘But the most important new thing is that he can now connect with other devices. ‘He can now not only perceive the colours that are in front of him but also colours that other people are looking at on their phones.
‘Potentially, this means, that he could also communicate skull to skull with other people who have the implant, but at the moment he is the only one. ‘How this will exactly work and the details will be revealed by Neil during his presentation.’ He first got the idea for the eyeborg when he heard a talk about cybernetics given by Adam Montandon at Dartington College of Arts in 2003.
The pair created the device and Mr Harbisson memorised the frequencies which related to each colour and decided to permanently attach the eyeborg to his head. He has since been trying to find medics who would implant the device into his skull and last year convinced a doctor and an anaplastologist from Catalonia to perform the operations. Speaking at a conference in 2012, he said: ‘For me the sky is always grey, flowers are always grey and television is black and white.
‘But since the age of 21 instead of seeing colour I can hear colour. ‘So I’ve been hearing colour all the time for eight years so I find it completely normal to hear it all the time. ‘At the start is had to memorise the names you have for each colour and the notes but after some time all this information became a perception and I didn’t have to think about the notes and after some time this became a feeling.
‘I started to have favourite colours and I started to dream in colour. ‘When I stared to dream in colour is when I felt that the software and my brain had united because in my dream it was my brain creating electronic sounds it was not the software and that’s when I started to feel like a cyborg. ‘It had become an extension of my senses.’