Mathematical Indian prodigy Shakuntala Devi, known for calculating impressive sums of numbers in her head, died on Sunday in Bangalore, India, at age 83.
Devi died of respiratory and cardiac problems, according to D.C. Shivadev, a trustee of Shakuntala Devi Educational Foundation Public Trust.
Since she was 6 years old, Devi performed her rare mathematical gifts around the world at colleges, on the radio and in theaters. One of her most shining moments was in 1977, when Devi successfully extracted the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds at an event at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which beat the 62 seconds it took for a Univac computer to complete the calculation. The feat notably earned Devi the nickname “Human Computer.”
Devi also made it into the 1982 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records after correctly multiplying two 13-digit numbers. It took Devi only 28 seconds to compute the equation in her head and recite the 26-digit solution. (The equation was: 7,686,369,774,870 multiplied by 2,465,099,745,779, which equals 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730.)
Devi’s parents first noticed her extraordinary ability to memorize numbers when she was just 3 years old, while she was playing cards with her father. By age 6, she was touring the world solving math problems. She then became the sole source of income for her family after her father quit his job as a trapeze artist and lion tamer in a circus in order to tour with his daughter.
Arthur R. Jensen, a researcher on human intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an academic article in 1990 that for 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.”
In addition to her exploits as a human computer, Devi was also a successful astrologer, cookbook author and novelist. She leaves behind a daughter and two grandchildren.