Throughout history, we’ve heard about human computers being hired by NASA to do computations for rocket launches and such. But did you know who was one of the most remarkable human computers in history?
Shakuntala Devi, also known as the human-computer from India, calculated the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds. The answer was verified by the UNIVAC 1101 computer at the US Bureau of Standards.
Who is Shakuntala Devi?
Shakuntala Devi was born on November 4, 1929, in Bangalore. Her father worked in a circus as a trapeze artist, lion tamer, magician, and tightrope walker. He discovered her ability to memorize numbers when she was just three years old. This was while he was teaching her a card trick. Her father left the circus and took her on the road to show off her mathematical skills. By 1944, they moved to London.
Devi traveled to different countries and demonstrated her talent. She went on tour in Europe throughout the 1950s and by 1976 she was in the US to be studied by Arthur Jensen. Jensen tested her on different tasks including the calculation of large numbers.
Devi worked hard to make numerical calculations easier for students to understand. In her later years, she wrote several books, including novels as well as texts on mathematics, puzzles, and astrology. She wrote The World of Homosexuals, which is regarded as India’s first study of homosexuality. She viewed homosexuality positively and is regarded as a pioneer in the field.
Devi was admitted to a Bangalore hospital in April 2013 with severe respiratory problems. She developed heart and kidney problems over the next two weeks. On April 21, 2013, she died in the hospital. She was 83 years old at the time. She was a popular Indian mental calculator and writer known as the Human-Computer. Her abilities landed her a spot in the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records.
Even though Devi set the world record on June 18, 1980, at Imperial College in London, the certificate was awarded posthumously on July 30, 2020. Devi was a gifted child who demonstrated her arithmetic abilities at the University of Mysore despite having no formal education. (Source: New York Times)
How Did She Demonstrate Her Calculation Ability to the World?
Devi was given problems such as calculating the cube root of 61,629,875 and the seventh root of 170,859,375. Jensen reported that Devi solved the aforementioned problems before Jensen could write them down in his notebook. Jensen’s findings were published in the academic journal Intelligence in 1990.
She demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers on June 18, 1980 – 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779. The Department of Computing at Imperial College London chose these numbers at random. In 28 seconds, she correctly answered 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730. This event was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1982. In her 1977 book Figuring: The Joy of Numbers, Shakuntala Devi described many of the methods she used to perform mental calculations.
The result is far superior to anything previously reported, and it can only be described as incredible.Steven Smith, Writer
(Source: New York Times)