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Listening to color
02:13 - Source: CNN

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Neil Harbisson is the world's first legally recognized cyborg

The 32-year-old was born with an illness that makes him completely colorblind

He has a device implanted in his skull which translates color into sound

But not everyone is ready to accept the rise of the cyborg...

CNN  — 

Neil Harbisson is the world’s first legally recognized cyborg. He has an antenna implanted into his skull that gives him access to something he was born without: the ability to perceive color.

In a world where technology is overwhelming our mental focus and social lives, Harbisson, 32, has a closer relationship with technology than even the most avid smartphone user.

As a child growing up in a coastal town in Catalonia, Spain, Harbisson was diagnosed with achromatopsia, complete color-blindness. In 2004, he decided to find a way out of his black-and-white world, by developing a technology that would provide him with a sensory experience that no other human had ever experienced.

The idea came while studying experimental music composition at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, England. For his final project, Harbisson and the computer scientist Adam Montandon developed the first incarnation of what they called the “eyeborg.” The apparatus was an antenna attached to a five-kilogram computer and a pair of headphones. The webcam at the end of the antenna translated each color into 360 different sound waves that Harbisson could listen to through headphones.

Although it sounds like a form of induced synaesthesia, a neurological condition that makes people see or even taste colors, Harbisson’s new condition is different, and requires a completely new name: sonochromatopsia, an extra sense that connects colors with sound. Unlike synaestehsia, which can vary wildly from person to person, sonochromatopsia makes each color correspond to a specific sound.

It took about five weeks to get over the headaches from the sounds of each new color and about five months to be able to decipher each frequency as a particular color he could now hear as a sound.

In the years after he began wearing the eyeborg, Harbisson went from complete color-blindness to the ability to decipher colors like red, green and blue. He could even detect colors like infrared and ultraviolet, which are outside of the spectrum of human vision.

Read: Forget wearable tech, embeddable implants are already here

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