Moon Ribas and Neil Harbisson from The Cyborg Foundation urged the audience at Pioneers Festival to consider experimenting with cyborgism.
Both Ribas and Harbisson use technology to extend their perceptions. Harbisson, who was born colourblind, has developed a tool involving a head-mounted camera and bone conduction audio, to turn the colours of the world into sounds.
“I was born completely colourblind and always wanted to extend my senses and perceive what colour is,” he said. He mentioned the critical culture role that colour, for example with things like Yellow Pages, the Pink Panther, James Brown and countries like Greenland. He showed how the flags of France, Ireland and Italy look identical to him and how frustrating it was when trying to navigate colour-coded maps, such as London’s Tube Map.
With his Eyeborg device, he can transform the world around him (as viewed through a webcam) into sound. “Each colour has a specific note,” he explained. After wearing the device for many years, his brain “got used to hearing colour and now it’s an extra sense”. He can even now perceive infrared and ultraviolet.
One of the benefits of this approach is that now every object, painting, scene or even someone’s face can become a piece of music. He can walk through the supermarket and hear a symphony. “I can dress as a song,” he said, pointing out that his garish tie actually corresponded to a piece of music he liked. “I can now compose music with food. So you can create a specific song [using different coloured ingredients] and eat your favourite song.”
“My sense of beauty has changed. Beauty doesn’t depend on the shape of someone’s face but on the combination of colours,” Harbisson explained. “You might look beautiful but sound terrible!”
Similarly Ribas, a choreographer, wanted to augment her senses in some way. She started by developing a device — Kaleidoscopic Vision — that allowed her to perceive colour but not shape. But she realised that colour wasn’t as important to her, so wanted to investigate movement. Her resulting Speedborg device embedded in earrings used infrared to monitor how quickly people were moving around her. The speed at which bodies shifted was relayed to her with a vibration motor. She also added a sensor to her back to produce 360-degree perception.
After the Speedborg, Ribas experimented with creating a Seismic Sense that would allow her to perceive seismic activity around the world, by linking up to a website that monitors such earthly movements. “Every time there is a small earthquake it makes a little vibration in my arm. I can tell if it’s small or big,” she said.
The duo concluded their talk by defending cyborg rights: both managed to convince the passport offices (of the UK and Spain) to allow them to feature their equipment in their ID pictures. “It’s an extension of my sense and so it should be included. So they allowed me to be photographed with my electronic eye,” explained Harbisson.
The pair also believes that cyborgism may help us identify with other species, such as animals that have senses like bone conduction (dolphins), the ability to perceive ultraviolet (insets) or have antennae.
“We can learn a lot from the senses that already exist in our planet. I encourage you to experiment with the use of cybernetics to extend your senses.”
by Olivia Solon, Wired.co.uk