Today Google celebrates Shakuntala Devi’s 84th birthday. She was popularly known as the “Human Computer”, was a child prodigy, and mental calculator. She passed away on April 21 2013, she was 83 years old. Her achievements include:
- In 1977 in the USA she competed with a computer to see who could calculate the cube root of 188,132,517 faster (she won). That same year, at the 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 U.S. Bureau of Standards by the Univac 1101 computer, for which a special program had to be written to perform such a large calculation.
- On June 18, 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.
Happy birthday Shakuntala!
As if that wasn’t awesome enough, she also (in 1977) wrote The World of Homosexuals, the first study of homosexuality in India. The book, considered “pioneering”, features interviews with two young Indian homosexual men, a male couple in Canada seeking legal marriage, a temple priest who explains his views on homosexuality, and a review of the existing literature on homosexuality. It ends with a call for decriminalising homosexuality, and “full and complete acceptance — not tolerance and not sympathy.”
The book was largely ignored because she was famous for her mathematical wizardry, so nothing of substantial import in the field of homosexuality was expected from her. Also the cultural situation in India was inhospitable for an open and elaborate discussion on this issue.