Harbisson’s visual world is painted in black, white and shades of grey. A rare genetic condition termed Achromatopsia is what’s responsible for colouring his surroundings like the pages of a newspaper.
He took an interest in both art and music at an early age and began studying fine art at Institut Alexandre Satorras in Mataró, Spain, where he had special permission to use only black and white.
In 2002, Harbisson moved to England to study Music Composition at The Dartington College of Arts. During his second year there he attended a lecture on cybernetics given by Adam Montandon. The two met after the lecture and not long after this intitial meeting, the eyeborg project was underway.
Because Harbisson lacks the ability to perceive colour, Montandon decided it would be best to capitalize on his existing sensory abilities; as a musician, his pitch perception is very accurate. Both colour and sound are produced in waves however the ones that produce colour are inaudible due to their high frequencies. To solve this problem, Montandon mathematically transposed the colour waves so they would fall into audible wavelengths, whereby the lowest colour in the spectrum would become the lowest note on the scale. He then created software that would instantly convert colours to their corresponding audible frequencies. With a miniature wearable camera (akin to a simple web cam), a computer in a back pack and a set of headphones, Harbisson can now perceive colour through sound.
Instead of simply hearing one note per colour, Harbisson is able to hear subtle differences in colour; 360 different hues, one for every degree on the colour wheel, each pertaining to an assigned audible frequency.
Every cyborg fan out there knows Neil Harbisson isn’t the one that exists in real life, but why are some calling him the world’s first ¨official¨cyborg? It has to do with his rather unusual passport photo; the British government had initially refused to accept photos including the head mounted apparatus but Harbisson protested. ¨I feel like a Cyborg¨he explains in an article featured in El País. ¨My electronic eye should be regarded as part of my official image.¨
If you want to hear how Harbisson percieves the colour of different fruits, watch the video below created by the cyborg himself. You can also check out his Cyborg Foundation.