An Interview with Neil Harbisson, Cyborg

In his keynote speech at this year’s TechEvent, Neil shared with us his fascinating world, in which he is able to hear colours, words and faces thanks to technology. But what’s it like, living with an antenna in your head? Does he have more ideas for expanding his senses? Does he have visions for the future? After his appearance at the TechEvent, we got another chance to ask him a few questions.

You live with an antenna in your head. What’s that like in day-to-day life?

1 trivadis_tech_event_zurich_2019_finals (143) (1)Neil Harbisson: The way I see it, I live a totally normal life. Taking a shower, for example, isn’t a problem because the antenna is waterproof. For now, I still have to charge the antenna with a charging pillow. It takes about two hours to charge and can be a bit cumbersome. My idea is to be able, at some point, to charge my antenna with energy from my body. We’re currently working on that in my lab in Barcelona.

The antenna allows me to feel sounds in my bones. All of my senses are active at all times. Then my brain decides what it feels and which sense it will focus on. I call it the “inner sound” or the “sound of thoughts.”

Life as a cyborg is a way of life for me. It connects me to nature – my goal is to feel reality, to sense a deep connection with nature, to better understand where we come from and who we are.

Was the antenna the major addition or do you already have new plans?

2 trivadis_tech_event_zurich_2019_finals (125) (1)Neil Harbisson: My plan for myself is to add new senses continually and thus continue developing myself. I’ve already implanted a chip in my right foot that I use to sense where the North Pole is.

In addition to a small device that creates heat from body energy, which I will use to charge my antenna, I am also considering a sense of time, perceived using a solar crown that is implanted under the skin around the head, and a little turbine in the blood that can control blood pressure. The solar crown has already been built and just needs to be implanted. There are 30 people working on this and other projects in my lab in Barcelona. Maybe one day there will be a clinic for cyborgs.

Will life be easier for people in 20 years through the use of technological developments as part of their body?

Neil Harbisson: Technology had a bad image in the 20th century – especially in films and comics. These days, people are born with technology, they live with technology, they don’t know a life without technology. They’ve grown up with them and have fewer reservations.

In the future, there will be more and more people who are open to new technology.

For example, we won’t have to use our hands anymore. A person with full-body paralysis will be able to use their teeth to communicate via Bluetooth. A sense for ultraviolet light will protect us from sunburns. There are loads of senses and applications that are plausible.

3 trivadis_tech_event_zurich_2019_finals (127) (1)

As you know, the aim of Trivadis is “Making a world possible in which it is a given that smart IT makes work and life easier.” Do you think that your inventions will fulfil this aim?

Neil Harbisson: Yes. We are very limited by biology, but technology is changing the world around us. We are able to uncover biological reality. Strategies are a combination of the senses. Everything has its origin in our senses. Therefore, the more senses you have, the more opportunities you have to increase your quality of life and to heighten your intuition, which helps you to find a strategy for the future. Your thoughts are influenced by what you feel.


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