Shakuntala Devi, known as the Human Computer, has died at the age of 83 following respiratory and then heart and kidney problems in a Bangalore hospital.
Her title of Human Computer was well earned as she was a child prodigy with phenomenal math skills. Shakuntala’s father noticed her math skills at age three when she could very easily memorize numbers to beat the card tricks she was shown. As her father was a trapeze artist in the circus, he had his daughter impressing the crowds with her super human calculations by age six, but it wasn’t until adulthood her gift was really demonstrated.
In 1977 she beat a computer at calculating the cube root of 188,132,517. Even more impressive is when she was asked for the 23rd root of 201 digit number. It took her 50 seconds to answer correctly, while a UNIVAC 1108 computer took 70 seconds to check she was right. I’m sure today’s computers would easily beat her, though.
Not surprisingly, Shakuntala also holds a Guinness World Record. In 1980 she was tasked with multiplying two 13-digit numbers randomly picked by members of the Computer Department of Imperial College, London. Those numbers were 7,686,369,774,870 and 2,465,099,745,779. She delivered the correct answer in just 28 seconds. She was also capable of telling you the day for any date in the last century almost instantly.
According to DC Shivdev, a trustee for the Shakuntala Devi Educational Foundation Public Trust, Shakuntala had clear and simple techniques she used to perform such math feats. She has written several booksthat try to help children with math and numbers, but her techniques have apparently yet to be used in education.