USA :the extraordinary story of the woman known as the “human computer”

Such was Shakuntala Devi’s ability to do mental calculations in a matter of seconds that those who knew her used to describe her as a “human computer”.

Her talent with numbers earned her a place in the Guinness World Record and made her a celebrity who traveled the world demonstrating her mathematical prowess in universities, theaters, radio and television studios.

The life of this Indian woman, who died in 2013 at the age of 83, was portrayed in a film that bears her name by title and which was recently released on the Amazon Prime platform.

Vidya Balan, the Bollywood actress who plays the numbers genie, described her as a “girl from a small Indian town who took the world by storm.”

He had no formal educationBut he could do the most complex calculations in his mind with astonishing speed. It was faster than a computer, “Balan tells the BBC.” data-reactid = “38”> “He had no formal educationBut he could do the most complex calculations in his mind with astonishing speed. It was faster than a computer, “Balan tells the BBC.

Seconds earlier, a panel member had asked him to multiply two eight-digit numbers. Devi gave them the answer almost immediately. The video has been viewed more than half a million times since it was posted online in 2013.

Divine gift

since i was 3 years“Her father, a circus performer, discovered this skill when they played cards and saw that the little girl beat him because he could memorize hers.” data-reactid = “42”> In interviews Devi said that he did mathematical calculations in his head “since i was 3 years“Her father, a circus performer, discovered this skill when they were playing cards and saw that the little girl beat him because he could memorize hers.

“It is a gift from God, a gift from God,” he used to say when asked to explain this extraordinary talent.

Devi was able to do complex calculations in her mind, without having to write them down.

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No one in his family, he said, had any particular skills for numbers. “Not even remotely, although my father was a wizard,” he said.

At 6 years old, when she was already considered a child prodigy, she showed her skills for the first time at a public event in the city of Mysore, Karnataka, the Indian state in which she was born.

Astonishing speed

In 1950, when he participated in a BBC television program, he gave an answer to a problem that was not the same as that of his host. This was due to a flaw in the question, Devi noted.

When the experts re-examined the numbers, they agreed with him.

And the entry to the famous Guinness book, he obtained by multiplying two 13-digit numbers chosen at random by a computer in front of an audience of 1,000 people at Imperial College London.

The calculation took him 28 seconds, including the time it took him to recite the 26-digit result.

Multiple interests

“She was so many things. She lived life on her own terms. She was not afraid, she was unapologetic. And to think that was 50 years ago!” Says Balan.

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The actress prepared her role by watching videos and reading articles about Devi, as well as listening to the stories of Anupama Banerji, her only daughter and who lives with her family in London.

“All this gave me an idea about her life. What really fascinated me is that one would not normally associate a funny person with mathematics and she changes this idea completely,” he says.

“She played with numbers, you can see a kind of joy in her when she did mathematical calculations (…). She loved to act.”

alert, outgoing, personable and eloquent“.” data-reactid = “110”> In a 19990 study, Arthur R. Jensen, a human intelligence researcher at the University of California, in the USA described her as a person “alert, outgoing, personable and eloquent

Devi says that no one in her family had a talent or predilection for mathematics.

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had a skill and couldn’t monetize it“he told the BBC.” data-reactid = “132”> “Some of it was for personal reasons, but more importantly, had a skill and couldn’t monetize it“he told the BBC.

In several interviews Devi had recounted how, as a child prodigy, she had frequently been under pressure to earn money, as the sole breadwinner for her family.

And, later in her life, her unhappiness was associated with her marriage to a gay man who hadn’t come out of the closet.

Balan hopes the movie will be a form of entertainment at a time when the vast majority are home from the coronavirus pandemic.

But he also hopes that “it will bring a change in the way we teach math, make it more interesting, and take away the fear that people have of this subject and inspire more people to study it.”

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