Neil Harbisson: A cyborg in the middle of life

04. September 2018 – Katharina Schlangenotto

Because I’m not much into future technologies, I first had to look up what a cyborg really is. And I learn: Cyborgs are mixed beings, half human, half machine. That sounds a lot strange to me. An Arnold Schwarzenegger, a terminator actually living among us?

Neil Harbisson does, thank God, not look like a machine. But then again, Arnold as a Terminator didn’t either. In the beginning at least. At first you might think that the antenna sticking out of Neils blond-colored hair would be a joke. In fact, he reports that especially drunken women’s groups like to pull on his implant at an advanced hour. If that hurt, somebody asks. “No,” he replies. „It ist just extremely annoying.“

His antenna is his organ

For him, the antenna in the head is not a machine but an organ. “For me, it’s not something that I wear, but a new sense organ.” His antenna-organ allows him to perceive colors.

Neil Harbisson is able to hear colors. Because he thinks of himself as a really bad singer, he can only describe how colors sound to him: red would be the deepest tone, followed by orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue and finally violet. Like a simple scale from F to F

This is how it works: the antenna picks up light waves and sends them into Neils head. He explains: “Each color then triggers different vibrations. So I can feel the colors in the skull bone. From infrared to ultraviolet.”

Connected to the International Space Station

Harbisson reports that he wears another implant, too. It has an internet connection so that he can receive colors that people send to him via mobile phone, for example. Neil Harbisson says that he can even connect with the International Space Station and feel the colors of space. Wow, I am thinking. This sound pretty incredible to me.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of people are already wearing implants on their skulls to compensate for physical deficits such as hearing and visual deficiencies. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are also supposed to be contained by implants. Researchers have already developed artificial eyes, smart prostheses and chips that connect the brain to the Internet.

Artist in his own body

Neil Harbisson sees himself as an artist creating art in his own body. He says he did not have the antenna implanted because his innate color blindness would have affected him. He was rather curious and simply wanted to have more sensory perceptions.

That sounds a bit crazy. That’s why it is worthwhile to meet Neil Harbisson personally. Because he is not impressed by the mainstream; because he has his own view of things and because he senses sensory perceptions of which, as non-cyborgs, can’t have a clue.

Neil Harbisson brings fresh air into old ways of thinking. Because he has long since, with his chosen lifestyle, left behind certain rules.

His topics are (his) lifestyle, Artificial Intelligence, Innovation, Music and Art. Experience him live. It is worth it!


Neil Harbisson

Contemporary artist and cyborg activist