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The Internet is arguable one of the mankind’s greatest innovations (aside from sliced bread, of course). Content is constantly being shared from across the globe, opening new avenues for communication, entertainment, and education.TED, which stands for technology, innovation, and design, is a giant in cyber-education. With videos from their many conferences in many different countries, TED brings the insights of the world’s leading scientists, scholars, artists, and founders of major corporations to its viewers in the comfort of their homes.
But if their videos have sparked a desire to attend one of their conferences physically, TED fans may not be so lucky. As the required membership costs $6,000 per year, you may give up on the idea entirely, thinking you’ll never get to see a TEDtalk live. At least, that’s what I thought.
Until Brown proved me wrong.
This is Neil Harbisson. A cyborg-activist and 2012 TEDtalk speaker, he recently came to Brown to give a (free) talk about his life as a cyborg and about the exciting future that lies ahead if cyborg rights are respected. Harbisson was born with achromotopsia, meaning that he can see only in grayscale. The complete inability to see color undoubtedly made his life more difficult, as he made clear by showing a grayscale subway map in Tokyo (hint: it’s confusing enough with color; without, it’s impossible to navigate). By the age of 21, however, Harbisson collaborated with several scientists to create a device that used a different way to detect color: through sound.
How the device works is much more complex than likely Harbisson told us or than we, the audience, would be able to understand. From what I understood with a barebones knowledge of physics, the device contains a camera that captures a dominant color, detects its wavelength of light, calculates its frequency, and converts that frequency into a sound. Although he initially could only detect about 6 colors, Harbisson has improved his technology to produce different sounds for every color on the color wheel. It took him nearly 3 years to be able to differentiate between each color as well. Suffice it to say that the audience was amazed; while we had trouble studying for midterms, Harbisson was memorizing the sounds that would give him greater accessibility in life.
Moreover, he talked a great deal about the applications of cyborgism. Currently, he is collaborating with a chef in Paris to create dishes that not only tasted good, but sounded good. Particularly, Harbisson wanted to create a plate known as “The Mozart” or “Lady Gaga” that, when he looked at it using his device, would produce songs of those artists. He even remarked that now he dressed not according to what looks good but what sounds good.
But beyond his own life, Harbisson remarked that becoming a cyborg could be beneficial to anyone and everyone. It is art form meant to provide humans with an extra sense that allows us to perceive our world in a new and interesting way. Funnily enough, I’m sure after his talk, every single person saw their surroundings differently: they saw it with a hidden potential to become even more beautiful.
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