When Neil Harbisson was born, he experienced the world in a more limited way than most people in that he could only see in shades of gray. Now, however, he experiences colors as sounds thanks to a cybernetic device implanted in the back of his neck. What’s more, the device is sensitive to a larger portion of the color spectrum, such as infrared, than is visible to the human eye. Harbisson has therefore been given a kind of seventh sense, hearing colors that none of us will ever experience. He uses that extra sense to make art, expressing color through sound and also translating sound into color.
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What’s the Big Idea?
In September, Harbisson will have the device permanently implanted. Doctors in Barcelona, Spain, will place the device inside his bone, allowing him to experience colors more vividly because his body will be more sensitive to the device’s vibrations, which produce sound frequencies. It took Harbisson an entire year to convince doctors that the operation was ethical and that the cybernetic device formed an essential part of his body. In the future, the power of computers seems likely to benefit the human body directly, augmenting our senses in a way that gives us a more complete understanding of life.