Science fiction is full of stories in which the machines take over and humans are left subservient to their own creations, but according to some artists and experimenters, that need not be our future. The work of Neil Harbisson, an Irish-born human cyborg, and Stelarc, an Australian performance artist, suggest that if we unite our bodies with technology, we can drastically extend our abilities and perception, and maybe even stay one step ahead of the robots.
Neil Harbisson was born color blind, yet seeing only in black and white and gray scale had its benefits. He could easily remember shapes without the distraction of color — but he did not stop wondering what color was like. Even if you don’t see blue, green or yellow, you can’t ignore their existence, he said. Everyday life is full of references to it, from Greenland to brown sugar. In 2003, Harbisson began to collaborate with cybernetics expert Adam Montandon to see if he could use technology to see color through sound.
Ultimately, the pair settled on a permanent solution: Harbisson had an Internet-connected antenna inserted into his head that allows him to hear the light frequencies of color — now he is able to perceive color through vibration. Everything around him has a note. On Sunday, for example, he was wearing F Sharp colored shoes. Each food item he eats has a note, and supermarkets are like going to a night club — the section with cleaning products has the best sounds, he said. Even humans can be perceived in this melodious way. Apparently, MaCaulay Culkin sounds like C Major.