How an 'eyeborg' enables a colour blind artist to make art

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This British illustrator has an antenna in his skull which allows him to translate colours into sounds.

If you ever met Neil Harbisson, the first thing you would notice is not his Beatles inspired "mop top" haircut, or his penchant for wearing bright vibrant colours, but the antenna snaking up from the back of his head.

The "eyeborg" is not a gimmick or a fad, but actually a sensory device which the colour blind artist has been wearing for over a decade.

After convincing doctors to do the surgery, which cost around more than $A14,000, the implanted device is activated 24/7 and lets him see his otherwise grey-scale world in colour.

Harbisson tells Insight his intention with this project was not to replace his vision, but to enhance his experience of colour.

"I never wanted to change my grey scale world, I wanted to completely see the world in grey scale but I wanted to have a sense of colour.  That's why I created a new sense of colour and a new body part so that I could extend it beyond what I would ever perceive."

What does wearing it feel like? British-born Harbisson says it was overwhelming at first but he soon got used to it.

As well, the "eyeborg" is like having an inner voice because the implant now has an internet connection and can receive phone calls. He is also able to receive live videos from all around the world.

So are there any downsides to wearing the implant? The 32-year-old admits now that the device is internet enabled, there is the potential that he could be hacked, although it hasn't happened yet. 

One other drawback he mentioned is the social reaction from wearing an "eyeborg", like being laughed at or pointed at while walking down the street.

Although he's now based in New York City and said the antennae is more socially acceptable in the Big Apple than elsewhere.

"Becoming technology is actually something very human."

So what's next for him? Harbisson predicts as the science improves, more people will be adopting similar technology.

"I'm sure we'll meet people with new body parts, with new sensors and that will be part of our daily life. We'll meet people and we'll ask what sensors do you have or what does your body part do? So we will merge with technology, we'll stop using technology as something that we wear or something that we use permanently and we'll start becoming technology," he says.

Harbisson feels that there's nothing more human than trying to extend or grow ourselves using technology.

"I think that's really what makes us human is the wish to grow, to extend ourselves, knowledge, that's why we learn things because we want to extend or knowledge ... So being human is one thing to grow and to extend ourselves and eventually the aim is that we will be a species that will be able to survive in space."

"I feel that I am technology, becoming technology is actually something very, very human," he says.

What's his take on how humans will look like in the distant future?

Harbisson predicts implantable technology will become more widespread because the union between machine and man is unescapable.

"I think we should all explore the union between humans and technology… I think this is inevitable. We will slowly merge technology in humans and this will allow us to extend our perception of reality."

Neil Harbisson is a guest on SBS Insight where we explore the topic of cyborgs. We ask: when does a human stop being a human and to what extent should we adapt the human body with technology? What ethical and scientific questions does it raise? Tune in 8.30pm AEST on SBS.

Source World News Australia

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