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Eyeborg (Neil Harbisson’s Cyborg Antenna)


Neil Harbisson is a cyborg artist based in New York City. He is described as a cyborg artist because his artwork his artwork is concerned with the concept of cyborgism but also because he himself is technically a cyborg. 

The word cyborg is a combination of the words "cybernetic" and "organism" and describes a being with both biological and mechanical parts. Neil Harbisson is technically considered a cyborg because of his antenna implant, which he calls "the Eyeborg." This device is implanted in his skull and was designed to extend the limitations of human color perception, specifically, it allows him to see colors even though he was born completely color blind, and he can even see infrared and ultraviolet colors. It does this using a camera on the end of the antenna, the camera detects both hue and saturation, and then the antenna sends that information to his brain as an audio signal through the process of bone conduction. [1] Essentially, it allows him to "hear" colors, including colors that humans would normally be unable to see. Before the implant, he was actually completely colorblind, and while he still technically sees everything in greyscale, he is able to percieve more colors than the average person thanks to his implant. [2] Since its initial creation the antenna can do much more than just allow him to percieve colors, it is also bluetooth enabled, allowing him to connect to other devices or the internet. He can also apparently "hear colors that other people are seeing." [3]

Harbisson describes the sensation of "hearing" colors as completely normal to him at this point. He claims that while at first he struggled with learning the names of the different colors he was hearing, but eventually it became a sense to him as intuitive as his others. He claims that now he has favorite colors and is even able to dream in color. He says that  starting to dream in color is when he truly started to feel like a cyborg, because in a dream it would be his brain creating the electronic sounds of the color, not the actual device, so he claims that is when the software of his device and his brain were united. [4]

1172736.jpgHarbisson says that the implant feels like a body part, he said “If you touch the camera or the antenna it’s like touching a tooth or a nail—I feel it, basically, which is weird, because I didn’t feel that before.” [5] Since it is surgically implanted into his skull, he also sleeps and showers with the antenna on. In 2004, Harbisson's british passport renewal was rejected because he was not allowed to appear in his passport photo with an electronic device on his head. Harbisson wrote back claiming that he self identified as a cyborg, and that the device should not be treated as an external electronic device, but rather a part of his body. His passport application was later accepted, making him technically the first cyborg to be recognized by a government.

Harbisson dosn't just see his implant as a functional tool, he describes it as a work of art. When asked about this, he said:

I see this as cyborg art: the art of creating new senses and the art of creating your own body parts. The problem is that it is impossible to share it. It happens in the mind of the artist, so I am both the artist and the only one in the audience because it happens exclusively in my head. The only way to share it is if you also have an antenna implanted in your brain. That is the main issue. [6]


[1], [3], [5]