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Shakuntala Devi: Human-Computer who calculate faster than the computer

Shakuntala Devi an Indian mathematician, and writer is widely known as the Human-Computer. In fact, she could calculate faster than a computer.

Shakuntala Devi is also the pioneer in homosexual studies in India.

Shakuntala’s Early Childhood

Devi was born in a humble family in Bangalore, India. Her father worked in the circus as a lion tamer.

When Shakuntala was about three years old, her father noticed her ability to memorize numbers. So, her father took her to the streets to showcase her calculation ability. This became the source of income for her family.

When Shakuntala turns six, she showed her mathematical abilities at the University of Mysore. She continued showcasing her mathematical abilities in various places in her teenage years.

Shakuntala Devi’s Adult Life

After growing into an adult, Shakuntala traveled all around the world to show her arithmetic talents. She was so famous that the professor of educational psychology from UC Berkeley requested her to let him study her. Jensen, the professor studied her extraordinary abilities. During the studies, he asked her to calculate the Cube root of 61,629,875 and the seventh root of 170,857,375. Pretty tough right?

Before Jensen could copy them in his notebook, Shakuntala gave him the answer. The answer was 395 and 15.

He published the study in the academic journal, Intelligence in 1990.

Excerpt from paper published by Jensen in Intelligence

Beating the computer

In 1977, at Southern Methodist University, they asked Shakuntala, what was the 23rd root of a 201-digit number? The correct answer is 546,372,891. Did you know how many minutes it takes for her to answer? 50 seconds. You heard that right. It just took 50 seconds. The computer UNIVAC 1101 took longer than her to calculate the number.

World fastest human Computation Record

In 1980, at Imperial College London, they asked her, what was the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers?

7,686,369,774,870 multiplied by 2,465,099,745,779.

The answer is 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730

How many minutes do you think she took to answer? 28 seconds. It was an insane speed. This event was recorded in the Guinness Book of World.

Celebrity life

Shakuntala becomes a celebrity. Even the prime minister Indira Gandhi was fond of her.

Indira Gandhi once told her this,

“Shakuntala, remember I’ve got so many ambassadors all over the world, but you are a very special ambassador because you’re are a roving ambassador, a mathematical ambassador who can win friends for India, and built-up close relationship between country to country”

Her Book

When Shakuntala got older, she published a book explaining all the methods she used to do mental calculations titled, Figuring: The Joy of Numbers.

She also wrote a book on homosexuality and was the first published an academic study in India.

Political journey

Shakuntala Devi also enters politics to contest the election in 1980. Ironically, her opponent was Prime minister Indira Gandhi. However, her fame could not be translated into votes. She lost the election.

Also read, Subhas Mukherjee: Unsung hero of In Vitro Fertilization(IVF) who committed suicide.

Legacies

On 4 November 2013, Google Devi honored Shakuntala Devi with a Google doodle on her 84th birthday.

Amazon Prime Video produced a film on her life titled, “Shakuntala Devi” on July 31, 2020.

Today, people remember her for her breath-taking arithmetic abilities.

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