Colour-blind artist hears colour thanks to electronic chip

An artist has implanted a chip into his skull allowing him to hear different shades of colour as sound vibrations.

Neil Harbisson Eyeborg

Artist Neil Harbisson was limited to seeing the world in black and white - until he developed an electronic chip which enables him to 'hear' colours. Since 2004, he has been creating a device which reads colour input in the world around him through a small camera, and translates it into vibrations in his inner ear.

It took Harbisson a year to persuade surgeons to carry out the operation, which involved implanting a chip into his skull. He can also use the wifi and bluetooth connectors in the chip to 'hear' images sent from mobile devices.

Speaking at a TED talk in 2012, he said: "I've been hearing colour all the time for eight years, since 2004, so I find it completely normal now to hear colour all the time. At the start, though, I had to memorise the names you give for each colour, so I had to memorise the notes, but after some time, all this information became a perception. I didn't have to think about the notes."

"Life has changed dramatically since I hear colour, because colour is almost everywhere, so the biggest change for example is going to an art gallery, I can listen to a Picasso, for example. So it's like I'm going to a concert hall, because I can listen to the paintings. And supermarkets, I find this is very shocking, it's very, very attractive to walk along a supermarket. It's like going to a nightclub."

Composers through the ages have cited the ability to 'hear' colour due to a condition known as synesthesia. Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, and Sibelius have all described specific keys as having a certain 'colour' or 'mood'.

Watch Neil Harbisson's TED talk

Latest News