A woman who was nicknamed the “human computer” for her incredible math skills has died of respiratory illness. She was 83.
Shakuntala Devi became famous as a child while traveling with her father’s circus, astounding the people of India with her ability to calculate large sums in her head. Her father had discovered her talents while playing a card game with her at just three years old.
Devi eventually won a place in the Guinness Book Of World Records in 1982 by correctly multiplying two 13-digit numbers in under 30 seconds. The numbers were 7,686,369,774,870 and 2,465,099,745,779, with an answer of 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730.
Devi fascinated American researcher Arthur Jensen, who once saw her find the cube root of two eight-digit numbers before his wife could even start the stopwatch. To Devi, he said, “The manipulation of numbers was like a native language, whereas for most of us arithmetic calculation is at best like the foreign language we learned in school.”
Devi performed in front of audiences throughout her childhood, earning money for her family with a talent unlike any most had ever seen.
“I had become the sole breadwinner of my family, and the responsibility was a huge one for a young child,” she once said. “At the age of 6, I gave my first major show at the University of Mysore, and this was the beginning of my marathon of public performances.”