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A real-life cyborg explains how he ‘listens’ to color

October 22nd, 2015 at 4:40 PM
Neil Harbisson Cyborg Listens To Color

Earlier this week, I stumbled across Business Insider video interview with Neil Harbisson, whom the publication describes as “a cyborg who can hear color.”

Wait, what?

Yes, it’s true: Harbisson was born completely colorblind and sees everything in grayscale. To get a sense of colors around him, Harbisson had an antenna implanted in his head that detects colors around him and sends him audible information about them via bone conduction. This entire concept was so crazy that I decided to learn more about it by watching a TED Talk that Harbisson gave about his condition a few years ago.

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“To me, the sky is always gray, flowers are always gray and television is still in black and white,” Harbisson explained at the start of his talk. “But since the age of 21, I can hear color instead of seeing color.”

Whenever he looks at a color, he hears a certain tone on the chromatic scale that he then associates with a given color. So for example, seeing red might trigger a C while seeing green might trigger an F Sharp. In the demonstration in his TED Talk, it sounds like these inputs are constantly flooding in, which seems like it would be extremely annoying.

He’s apparently gotten used to it, however, because now he’s reached the point where he’s actually dreaming in color.

“When I started to dream in color is when I felt that the software and my brain had united,” he said. “Because in my dreams it was my brain creating electronic sound, it wasn’t the software.”

This is absolutely crazy. Be sure to check out Harbisson’s full TED Talk below.




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