“Human Computer” No More: RIP Shakuntala Devi (4 Nov 1929- 21 Apr 2013)

Shakuntala Devi
Shakuntala Devi (4 Nov 1929- 21 Apr 2013) Image: Wikipedia

NextBigWhat records with sadness the death of Mathematics wizard Shakuntala Devi, one of India’s most popular math brains.

Shakuntala Devi died on Sunday in Bangalore at the age of 83 and is survived by a daughter and her family.

The math genius did not have any formal education but exhibited prodigious maths skills as a child. Shakuntala Devi had to drop out of school because her family couldn’t afford the fees and is said to have spent much of her childhood in poverty. Her father, from a traditional Kannada Brahmin family, had rebelled against the family to join a circus.

She grew up to author many books and practiced astrology as a profession. She had an illustrious list of clientele from country heads to celebrities.

Shakuntala Devi has written more than a dozen books on topics including cooking, homosexuality, mathematics and astrology. During her lifetime, she was always looking for ways to make mathematics fun and easy.

Here are some of the feats she achieved when she was young (source)

  • In 1977 in Dallas she competed with a computer to see who could give the cube root of 188132517 faster. She won. At an American university she was asked to give the 23rd root of a number with 201 digits. She answered in 50 seconds. The UNIVAC 1108 computer at the time took a full minute to confirm that she was right after it was fed with 13000 instructions.

  • On June 18, 1980, she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779 picked at random by the Computer Department of Imperial College, London. She correctly answered 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730 in 28 seconds. This event is mentioned in the 1995 Guinness Book of Records

She started the Shakuntala Devi Educational Foundation Public Trust in order to spread her love for mathematics and make it a fun subject for students to learn. She had also founded an educational institution at HSR layout, Bangalore, which started functioning in 2011.


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