Aug 12, 2019

Neil HarbissonAttendees of the IES Annual Conference in Louisville, KY, included lighting designers, manufacturers, educators, researchers…and one cyborg. Who better to help open the conference—tagline “Light.Affect/Light.Effect”—than Neil Harbisson, the world’s only cyborg officially recognized by the UK government, whose surgically implanted antenna helps him experience color?

The antenna is a case of necessity being the mother of invention. Harbisson cannot see in color, only in grayscale. His goal was “to have a sense of color as a cultural advantage, not to change sight.” Through his antenna, each color corresponds to a musical note, allowing him to experience color in his own way. “I wanted to become the technology.”

During his General Session address, Harbisson offered both humorous anecdotes and insights on the ethical aspects of his “transpecies surgery.” In the 15 years that he’s had the antenna, people have asked him if he was wearing a reading light, a hands-free phone or a selfie stick. In the 2020s, he hopes people see it as a “new sensory organ.” As the founder of the Cyborg Foundation, Harbisson cited other potential examples of transpecies surgery, such as an implants to sense magnetic north and weather, in calling for a new movement in “species design.” He states, “it’s not AI, it’s ‘AS’ (Artificial Sense).”