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June 4, 2014 AT 12:00 am

What does the color orange sound like? Cyborg artist Neil Harbisson knows, thanks to his “antenna” implant #WearableWednesday

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Gigaom has a great story on cyborg artist Neil Harbisson, who was born color-blind, and the implant that has allowed him to “hear” color.

In most cases, people who use technology to augment their bodies or their senses do so because they want to either make up for something they’re missing — a limb, for example, or the sense of sight — or because they want to make themselves smarter, by using Google Glass or similar devices to look things up or take pictures. But cyborg Neil Harbisson did something very different: he essentially invented a new sense by combining one he doesn’t have with one that he does: using an antenna-like implant with a camera, he is able to hear colors.

I’ve seen a lot of different kinds of technology over the course of my journalism career, and I’ve had the chance to meet a number of fascinating scientists, entrepreneurs and artists, but I will say this: I have never heard or seen anything as mind-blowing as Neil Harbisson. Listening to him talk at the Mesh conference on Tuesday about what it’s like to hear colors, and how that has changed the way he experiences the world, was one of the most fascinating things I think I’ve ever seen or heard (Note: I am a co-founder of Mesh).

Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, a rare disorder that made him completely color-blind — instead of the rainbow of hues that most people can see, he sees only black and white and shades of grey. As a child, Harbisson became interested in music, and while at university in 2003 he ran into a cybernetics researcher, and the two came up with the idea of using a digital camera to turn the colors that Harbisson couldn’t see into sounds, based on the concept that a specific frequency of light is essentially equivalent to a sound wave.

Originally, the backpack-sized apparatus took only a small number of colors and turned them into tones Harbisson could hear through a bulky headset, but he wanted to go further. The device gradually got smaller and went wireless, and then he took the ultimate step: he had a sound-conducting chip implanted in his head, and last year a flexible shaft with the camera on it was permanently attached to his skull. In effect, he became a cyborg. With the latest software upgrade, he became able to hear ultraviolet and infrared and his chip now has a Bluetooth connection.

Read the full fascinating story here.


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