This is the future, says world’s first cyborg Neil Harbisson
Born colour blind, Neil Harbisson at 21 co-devised and implanted the antenna, which converts colour frequencies to sound, in his head
New Delhi: Neil Harbisson, the world’s first legally recognized cyborg, sits down in a conference room at Le Meridien hotel, and unassumingly fixes his antenna, which has been implanted in his skull, by pulling it closer to the frame of his forehead. He smiles disarmingly.
“It’s a new body part,” he says, pointing at it. “When I was studying music in England, I decided to create a new organ for the sense of colour, because I didn’t want to wear technology. I wanted to have an ‘organ’ that would allow me to ‘sense’ colours. I thought an antenna would be the best way, because it is independent from sight and hearing.”
Harbisson was talking to Mint on Wednesday, the afternoon before his first talk in India and just 12 hours after he landed in New Delhi.
Born with achromatopsia, Harbisson can only see his surroundings in black and white. At the age of 21, however, he co-devised and implanted the antenna, which converts colour frequencies to sound, in his head.
The device allows him to ‘hear’ and recognize colour, depending on the frequencies. Harbisson calls the antenna an additional ‘organ’.
The UK government has given Harbisson a bionic status.
“This is the future,” says Harbisson. “The future is that we need to start designing ourselves, and this will be the biggest change in our generation. We need to change the way we’ve been functioning as a species. For thousands of years, we’ve been changing the planet and designing it in order to make ourselves more comfortable, whereas if we start designing ourselves, things will change. The more we design ourselves, the less we will have to design the planet. For example, if we had night vision, when cities would be dark, we would not have to spend so much money and energy to create lighting systems. It would also be better for the environment. Also, if we could control our own temperature, we would not have to use air-conditioning or heaters. We wouldn’t have to heat up the planet when it’s cold or vice versa. ”
In 2010, Harbisson, along with Moon Ribas, co-founded Cyborg Foundation, an international platform which gives ordinary humans the opportunity to develop their own artificial senses. “The aim of it is to allow people to decide the senses they want to have and live with,” explains Harbisson.
In the realm of cybernetics, Harbisson is hopeful that an interest will soon develop in India. “Designing organs and senses is a career that doesn’t exist. You can’t go to a university and learn how to design an organ. So, in order to create these organs, we need to have artists, designers, computer scientists, doctors—we need to have a perfect team. And in India, I’m sure there are many people who are specialists in their own field, but have never worked together, so it would be exciting to create this kind of team in India. I’m sure there will be plenty of people willing to explore and create new senses,” he says.
Harbisson will be speaking on 22 February in New Delhi at the India Design ID 2018, an annual design event which brings together the world’s top-notch design visionaries, architects and designers.
“What Neil is doing is so futuristic... He has extended the boundaries of human perception. We were fascinated by what he’s doing and want to understand his experience,” said India Design spokesperson Aashti Bhartia.
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