Colour-blind artist uses an implant to hear colour

A 31 year old artist named Neil Harbisson was born colour blind.  He was born with achromatopsia, a rare condition limiting his vision to only black and white.  Ten years ago, however, Harbisson began wearing an external electronic eye that would receive colour frequencies through a camera and then transform each unique frequency into sound vibrations.  The translation allows him to decipher between different colours.  After years of experimenting with the external eye, Harbisson recently convinced surgeons to implant the audio chip inside his skull.  The implant provides him with a greater depth of colour perception.  When faced with different colours and combinations, a different sound is produced.

What is even more remarkable is the fact that Harbisson’s implant contains a Wi-Fi connector.  The connector allows him to “hear” the frequencies of images that are transmitted to him.  His brain then decodes the sound and allows him to visualize the transmission.  What does this mean? Well, just like we might email images to each other on a mobile device, Harbisson is able to decode an image that is being transmitted to his ears and, thus, his brain!  In fact, some people are theorizing that if another person were to share the same implant as Harbisson, the two could transmit what was being viewed to the other person.  It would truly be a cyborg conversation.  However, this has not yet happened as Harbisson is the only person to have this implant.

Certainly the sounds and the experience as a whole would take some getting used to, like learning a new language, but Harbisson appears to have grown very comfortable with the concept.  So much so that he is turning his experiment into art.  Harbisson has also recently used his ability to hear colour to conduct the world’s first ‘colour choir’.  He first started with an image.  The image produced tones via his implant, which Harbisson then composed into a corresponding musical score.  Harbisson then taught the musicians the corresponding tone for the colours and the musicians played or sung notes based only on the colours they saw on the tablet devices in front of them, which were controlled by Harbisson – the concert conductor.  Truly remarkable!  Harbisson last year performed a colour concert by using the colour tones from socks.  If you would like to witness Harbisson’s artistry, watch this YouTube video.

Christopher Dawson

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