Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Super Humans - Shakuntala Devi

    Shakuntala Devi (4 November 1929 – 21 April 2013) was an Indian writer and mental calculator, popularly known as the "human computer". A child prodigy, her talents eventually earned her a place in the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records. 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. Shakuntala Devi was born in Bengaluru, India, to an orthodox Kannada Brahmin family. 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. He discovered his daughter's ability to memorize numbers while teaching her a card trick when she was about three years old. Her father left the circus and took her on road shows that displayed her ability at calculation. She did this without any formal education. By the age of six she demonstrated her calculation and memorization abilities at the University of Mysore. In 1944, Devi moved to London with her father. Devi traveled the world demonstrating her arithmetic talents, including a tour of Europe in 1950 and a performance in New York City in 1976. In 1988, she traveled 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. In 1977, at Southern Methodist University, 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, 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". She returned to India in the mid-1960s and married Paritosh Banerji, an officer of the Indian Administrative Service from Kolkata. They were divorced in 1979. In 1980, she contested in the Lok Sabha elections as an independent, from Bombay South and from Medak in Andhra Pradesh. In Medak she stood against Indira Gandhi, saying she wanted to "defend the people of Medak from being fooled by Mrs. Gandhi"; she stood ninth, with 6514 votes (1.47% of the votes). Devi returned to Bengaluru in the early 1980s. In addition to her work as a mental calculator, Devi was an astrologer and an author of several books, including cookbooks and novels.

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