It's unlikely that the name of an Indian woman who died on Sunday will mean anything to you, but her nickname is sure to resonate. Shakuntala Devi, aka the "human computer," died at the age of 83 in Bangalore, leaving behind a legacy of jaw-dropping computational genius. Her colorful story begins at age three, when her lion-tamer father discovered her prodigious talent for memorizing numbers. Major public performances began at the age of six, taking her from what she once described to the Times of India as the semi-slums to locations around the world. Among her feats, as also recounted by the New York Times and the Telegraph:
- 1977: She extracted the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds; a Univac computer tasked with performing the same calculation did so in 62 seconds.
- 1980: She entered the Guinness Book of World Records after multiplying two 13-digit numbers—and voicing the 26-digit solution—in a total of 28 seconds.
- She famously gave answers (once on the BBC, another time at the University of Rome) that were different from the ones the interviewers had; she was correct on both occasions.
- An American researcher who studied her abilities asked her to find the the cube root of 61,629,875, and the seventh root of 170,859,375. She did so before his wife was even able to start a stopwatch.