Shakuntala Devi, a math guru known as the ‘human computer’, has died in Bangalore, India at the age of 83.
Devi mastered swift calculations in a unique way. Even machines struggled to match her speed and accuracy.
She first astonished the world’s top mathematicians in 1977 at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, when she managed to extract the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds. The same math problem took a Univac computer 62 seconds to solve.
Three years later, before a surprised audience at the Imperial College in London, she correctly multiplied two 13-digit numbers in just 28 seconds. Her feat earned her a place in the 1982 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.
Devi was born in Bangalore on November 4, 1929. She discovered her unique talent at the age of three while playing cards with her father. After only two years, she had become an expert on extremely difficult mathematical problems.
In the1950s she toured Europe. During an appearance at the University of Rome, the judges declared one of her answers was wrong. The experts then re-examine their own calculations before finally discovering she was right.
Arthur R. Jensen, a researcher into human intelligence, wrote about Shakuntala Devi: “The manipulation of numbers is apparently like a native language for her, whereas for most of us arithmetic calculation is at best like the foreign language we learned in school.”