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Shakuntala Devi, an Indian mathematical wizard known as “the human computer” has died in Bangalore, India. She was 83.
Devi was dubbed the human computer because in 1977 she was able to beat a Univac computer in calculating the extracted the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds. The Univac took 62 seconds.
In 1980, she correctly multiplied two 13-digit numbers in only 28 seconds at the Imperial College in London. This included the time to recite the 26-digit answer and earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
According to Science, Devi’s dad was a trapeze artist and lion tamer in a circus and at age three she discovered that she was a mathematical prodigy with an uncanny ability to memorise numbers when she was playing cards with him. At age five she had become an expert at solving math problems.
She started out demonstrating her math skills at the circus, and later in road shows arranged by her father.
Soon she was making more money for the family than her father and his lions.
She toured Europe in 1950. The BBC thought they had caught her out when she came up with an answer to a problem which was different from what was on their card. It turned out they were wrong. The same problem happened in Rome when university boffins failed to add up their numbers correctly.
According to the New York Times, in 1976 she could give you the cube root of 188,132,517 in the time it took to ask the question. If you gave her any date in the last century, she would tell you what day of the week it fell on.
In a 1990 journal article about Devi, Arthur Jensen, a researcher on human intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley, said that to her the manipulation of numbers was like a native language.
Curiously for the rationalists, she was also a famous astrologer and writer turning out novels and cookbooks.