Shakuntala Devi, an Indian mathematical wizard known as “the human computer” for her ability to make incredibly swift calculations, died in Bangalore, India at the age of 83, due to the cause of respiratory and cardiac problems, said D. C. Shivadev, a trustee of the Shakuntala Devi Educational Foundation Public Trust.
Shakuntala Devi was born in Bangalore ( Kannada: 4 November 1929 – 21 April 2013) to an orthodox Kannada Brahmin family, was an Indian writer and mental calculator, popularly known as the "human computer".
Her father rebelled against becoming a temple priest and instead joined a circus where he worked as a trapeze artist, lion tamer, tightrope walker and magician, whose Survivors include a daughter and two grandchildren.
She was about 3 and playing cards with her father when he discovered that she was a mathematical prodigy with an uncanny ability to memorize numbers. By the time she was 5, she had become an expert at solving math problems.
Ms. Devi won fame demonstrating her math skills at the circus, and later in road shows arranged by her father.
She did this without any formal education. By the age of six she demonstrated her calculation and memorisation abilities at the University of Mysore.
A child prodigy, her talents eventually earned her a place in the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records
In 1944, Devi moved to London with her father.
“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.”
Devi travelled the world demonstrating her arithmetic talents, including a tour of Europe in 1950 and a performance in New York City in 1976.
Ms. Devi demonstrated her mathematical gifts around the world, at colleges, in theaters and on radio and television.
When she appeared on the BBC, her answer to a difficult calculation was different from the interviewer’s. It turned out that she was right. Similarly, at the University of Rome, one of her answers to a problem was found to be wrong, until the experts re-examined their own calculations.
Problems solved by Ms. Devi during a demonstration in New York in 1976, as they appeared in The New York Times. (Two of the answers to the third question, however, are wrong. Jan. 14, 1935, was Monday, not Tuesday; and Dec. 14, 1935, was Saturday, not Sunday.)
When Ms. Devi performed in New York in 1976, an article in The New York Times marveled at her abilities: “She could give you the cube root of 188,132,517 — or almost any other number — in the time it took to ask the question. If you gave her any date in the last century, she would tell you what day of the week it fell on.”
In 1977, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, she was asked to give the 23rd root of a 201-digit number; she answered in 50 seconds. Her answer—546,372,891—was confirmed by calculations done at the US Bureau of Standards by the UNIVAC 1101 computer, which took 62 seconds, for which a special program had to be written to perform such a large calculation.
On 18 June 1980, she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers—7,686,369,774,870 × 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 1982 Guinness Book of Records. Writer Steven Smith states that the result is "so far superior to anything previously reported that it can only be described as unbelievable".
In 1988, she travelled to the US to have her abilities studied by Arthur Jensen, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Jensen tested her performance of 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 aforementioned problems (395 and 15, respectively) before Jensen could copy them down in his notebook. Jensen published his findings in the academic journal Intelligence in 1990.
He posited that for Ms. Devi, “the manipulation of numbers is apparently like a native language, whereas for most of us arithmetic calculation is at best like the foreign language we learned in school.” But he added that she built on her inherent skills through intense practice as a child.
Ms. Devi was also a successful astrologer, cookbook author and novelist. As a writer, Devi wrote a number of books, including novels as well as texts about mathematics, puzzles, and astrology. She also wrote what is considered the first study of homosexuality in India; it treated homosexuality in an understanding light and is considered pioneering.