Shakuntala Devi from India, also known as the human computer, gave the 23rd root of a 201 digit number in 50 seconds. The answer was verified at the US Bureau of Standards by the UNIVAC 1101 computer, for which a special program had to be written to perform such a large calculation.

Shakuntala Devi

Devi travelled to several countries around the world demonstrating her arithmetic talents. She was on a tour of Europe throughout 1950 and was in New York City in 1976. In 1988, she travelled to the US to have her abilities studied by Arthur Jensen, a professor of educational psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Jensen tested her performance at several tasks, including the calculation of large numbers. Examples of the problems presented to Devi included calculating the cube root of 61,629,875 and the seventh root of 170,859,375. Jensen reported that Devi provided the solution to the above mentioned problems (395 and 15, respectively) before Jensen could copy them down in his notebook. Jensen published his findings in t… Continue Reading (4 minute read)

13 thoughts on “Shakuntala Devi from India, also known as the human computer, gave the 23rd root of a 201 digit number in 50 seconds. The answer was verified at the US Bureau of Standards by the UNIVAC 1101 computer, for which a special program had to be written to perform such a large calculation.”

  1. CruelMetatron

    How is a root calculated anyway?

  2. 7slayer

    Legend. In an interview she had mentioned to the question of how she got into such quick calculations that she started off only trying to find ways to make Maths calculations easier, little did she know that eventually she would become the “Human Computer”.

    Rest in peace Ma’am.

    Edit: [IMDB Link for Movie on Shakuntala Devi.](https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10964468/)

  3. BaselineVaseline

    It really makes you think what are the full possibilities of the brain. Why was she special? Was it in the genetics?

  4. Aimless_Joker

    A 201 digit number?

    Thats equivalent (roughly) to a Googol x a Googol, isn’t it?

    Edit: very roughly. It’s been pointed out below that 201st digit makes it bigger than GxG by about 10x.

  5. OhSoFunni

    I saw her perform live once. She would ask for problems from the audience, someone presented her with a 5th degree polynomial equation with six figure coefficients and she was asked to solve for x in her head. She knew immediately the answer had three digits, it took her about a minute to get the right answer.

    The amazing thing about this is that there is no closed formula for polynomial equation greater than the fourth degree.

  6. unlikelypisces

    Small fun fact that I have no way to prove. I met her when I was a child in the late ’80s at a family friends party. My parents had an affluent Indian friend who lived in Berkeley (actually Piedmont which is a couple miles away) and we went to his party and there I met a woman who my dad told me was known as the human computer who could perform amazing mental calculations very quickly in her mind. Me, being interested in math and numbers at a young age, it made an impact to me and I clearly remember it. She was nice and normal like any other Indian “Auntie” that I would meet.

  7. baldeagleNL

    Did the computer calculate the root as well, or did it check the answer? The first option is a very difficult task, the second is comparetively easy.

  8. cosmilagoonic

    She’s my maternal grandfather’s first cousin and that’s my biggest flex

  9. Geronimo2011

    We had an indian guy in the programming project, wo could convert hex numbers to decimal in seconds in his head. 32 bit. Like “what is FE3C5AC7 please” – only seconds later he just said it. And that was an assembly language project, 30 jears ago. India again

  10. ProbablyGayingOnYou

    I really want to understand what the mental model and process she went through to do that calculation. Like, the Common Core math methods of adding numbers are an attempt to make kids learn math in a way that more closely resembles how people do math easily in their heads. So 23+111 becomes 23+2 is 25, +100, + (11-2) = 125 + 9 = 134. I have no idea how to attempt to fathom what her mental process was like to do this calculation although it would be fascinating to hear.

  11. _-reddit-

    Cal cu later? More like Cal cu now.

  12. _bifrost_

    Do watch this video , it’s a 1977 live show called Mathematical Bonanza where people try to outwit her with tough questions

    https://youtu.be/MGBTHb0FigI

    Edit : At 18:00 it starts to get unbelievable

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