The Cyborg of the Future...

In the past few years, I have adopted academia as the way of living. And subsequently have I been clarified on a large number of presumptions regarding science and the people who practice it as a religion.

For example, I had always thought that the people of science were a binary lot! The Yes-and-No kind of people. A chemist would pose wearing an apron, holding beakers and Erlenmeyer flasks in his hands, while a physicist would beat his head at the chalkboard that is repleted with complex equations of quantum mechanics. A biologist would be dissecting a lab-rat for nothing while a computer person would spend sleepless nights sitting in front of the glowing screen, punching codes and high on caffeine. That is the general image we have in our heads, right?

But in the past few years, I have been let in on a secret, 'Things are not exactly that simple dummy!' And as we progress into the future with towering banners of discovery, invention and innovation, all the fields are tending on a convergence. For quite sometime now, it is apparent that everyone ought to be a mathematician in some ways to the least. A biologist also, cannot do without chemistry, physics and computers. Physics cannot remain viable without the apparent contribution of computers and the deeper understanding of the fundamental units of matter - a topic, dug up repeatedly as the basis of subjects like chemistry.

In today's world as it seems, not everything is a yes and no. Or a positive and negative. Or a matter and antimatter. Or a black and white. There is a tinge of orange or green or turquoise every now and then, isn't it?

Last year at a TEDxGateway event in Mumbai, many a great speakers came and narrated their fascinating stories of innovation (Available for free viewing on Youtube). And out of all these, the talk of Neil Harbisson got a whole lot of neurons tingling in my brain, almost exclusively!

Neil Harbisson of the Cyborg Foundation was born with achromatopsia, or in other words, he could only see in black and white. But realizing that the world loses half of its meaning and charm if one takes colours out of the equation, he decided to do the unthinkable. Neil started on a project that enabled perceptibility of colours as sounds. Or in a more scientific of jargon, we'd call it sonochromatism. Once he memorized the frequencies corresponding to each colour, he allowed the cybernetic instrument to be lodged permanently to his head. He was now a cyborg, able to perceive colours as sounds.

"There are no white skins, and there are no black skins. Humans skins are of different shades of orange"

I suddenly realize that Neil Harbisson, with his eyeborg, could comprehend the world in entirely new dimensions. Sensing the colours in the format of sound and vice versa would otherwise be an experience akin to the mystic out-of-body experiences and synesthesia. Here was physics in correspondence with biology, involving the wonders of computer. Science of the 21st century.

Neil Harbisson went on to create music and contemporary-art with his extended senses as a cyborg. Apart from creating sound-portraits for the likes of Woody Allen, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Al Gore and Prince Charles, he has produced the Human Colour Wheel, describing the skin tone of people as dark and light shades of orange. The City Colours project aims at discovering the dominant colours of various cities across Europe while using his device, one can now produce a painting out of a song or ringtone or a bird-call. Interdisciplinary science at it's innovative best!

"When you're a little weird, you aspire to be normal; when you're very weird, you aspire to be recognized for it."

If word hadn't got out of inspirational discoveries and inventions each time, the world would have remained poor, untouched by the brilliant ideas and the brilliant minds that conceived them. Ideas are, and have always been the best investments for a better tomorrow. 'Groundbreaking' is the motto we all should look forward to.

Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.


  1. THAT was an amazing piece of info.
    "There are no white skins, and there are no black skins. Humans skins are of different shades of orange"
    This discovery should be stuffed in to everyone's head so that racism and prejudice never exists.
    Deeptiman, I enjoyed reading this.

    1. Isn't it? :) He got quite a many cheers and applause at this point, when he spoke in Mumbai last year..

  2. Isn't it? :) He got quite a many cheers and applause at this point, when he spoke in Mumbai last year..