Neil Harbisson: I listen to color


Neil Harbisson was born with a rare visual condition called achromatopsia, which is total color blindness. To him, the world was composed of white, black and gray color; however, since the age of 21, he can sense color by hearing. He and computer scientists developed new device called “eyeborg”. By wearing it, its color sensor detects the color in front of him and, it notifies to him of color information with unique sound frequency depending on color. As he accepted the information as a perception; then, it became a part of his body extending his senses. With this change, he started to perceive the world differently. When he visits an art gallery, he feels works by listening to their own sounds. Not only listening to an art, but also listening to people became one of his way to get to know each other. He decided to continue expanding his color senses, and he added the range of color. Now he can hear colors of infrared and ultraviolet. He encourages us to become a cyborg like him extending our sense supported by technology.


Eyeborg project was designed using virtual reality and software. Through this lecture, I realized that the potentiality of computer science is unlimited. Someone with the inability to see color gets a perception of color is great development; furthermore, if this device is used for blind, it would be very helpful to them avoiding from danger in front of them. I stimulated by computer scientists, who joined this work, and I want to create useful technology giving help to people who need it. The other thing I thought during this lecture was what it feels like to become a cyborg. If with prosthetic device, you can run as fast as a train or, you can expand your memory, do you want to be a cyborg? If devices extending our ability becomes prevalent, I think it would be a controversial issue like an issue of cosmetic surgery. Some people who encourage themselves to develop their ability with devices would think they could be satisfied with new devices and, there is no problem with upgrading their ability; on the other hand, the others would feel antipathy of artificiality and be worried about side effects. In my case, I prefer natural ability to artificially improved ability even though new technology gives me outstanding ability. Nonetheless, something that really attracts me comes up; then, I would consider seriously about wearing devices.

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In his youtube site, I found a video which he recorded containing sound of famous people called sound portraits. I just wondered how it sounds like when he hear people. This video satisfied my curiosity. As you can hear, each of them has unique sound. It was interesting! He works as a lecturer and also an artist relating sound and color. For example, he converted Martin Luther King’s speech, ‘I have a dream’ to art of color. I was surprised that he’s artwork blurs the boundaries of perception between color and sound. This was totally new perspective of appreciating famous speech or an art.


Born with the inability to see color, Neil Harbisson wears a prosthetic device — he calls it an “eyeborg” — that allows him to hear the spectrum, even those colors beyond the range of human sight.

prosthetic(adj): Prosthetic parts of the body are artificial ones used to replace natural ones.

Korean Equivalent: 인공 기관의, 보철의

Synonyms: none

Antonyms: none

Personal Sentence: Then she used prosthetic legs to walk on her own.

Also, the way I perceive beauty has changed, because when I look at someone, I hear their face, so someone might look very beautiful but sound terrible.

terrible(adj): A terrible experience or situation is very serious or very unpleasant.

Korean Equivalent: 끔찍한, 소름끼치는

Synonyms: awful, disastrous, dreadful

Antonyms: delightful, nice, leasant

Personal Sentence:  The fire occasioned terrible confusion in that neighborhood.


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