'Human Computer' Shakuntala Devi dies at 83

Posted By Kristen Butler, UPI.com   |   April 24, 2013 at 10:57 AM   |   Comments

April 24 (UPI) -- Playing a game of cards at age 3, Shakuntala Devi's lion-tamer father realized she had a gift for numbers. By age five she was a math wizard, and traveled with her father's circus winning fame for her astounding calculations.

Devi, known as "The Human Computer," died Sunday in Bangalore, India, due to respiratory and cardiac problems, reports The New York Times. She was 83.

Devi toured Europe in 1950, and in one incident aired on the BBC, her solution to a math problem was different from her interviewer's answer. It turned out that she was correct.

In 1977 she extracted the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds, famously beating a Univac computer that performed the same calculation in 62 seconds. Devi entered the Guinness Book of World Records after multiplying two 13-digit numbers in a total of 28 seconds, a time that included voicing the entire 26-digit solution.

According to American researcher Arthur Jensen, Devi found the cube root of 61,629,875, and the seventh root of 170,859,375 and gave the correct answers of 395 and 15 before Jensen’s wife could start the stopwatch.

In the same study, published in 1990, Jensen noted that unlike popular conceptions of autistic savants, "Devi comes across as alert, extroverted, affable and articulate.” For Devi, he said, ability with numbers was like a native language, "whereas for most of us arithmetic calculation is at best like the foreign language we learned in school.”

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