Monday, November 4, 2013

Google Doodle celebrates Shakuntala Devi - the "Human Computer"

You may have never heard of Shakuntala Devi before, but Google decided to give a little help with that by featuring her in a Google Doodle, and rightfully so. Shakuntala  is one of those extraordinary cases that reminds us that the human brain is far more mysterious (and powerful) than we can imagine. If one would tell you it was possible for a human to do math calculations faster than a computer, you'd think they were joking. But in Shakuntala Devi's case, that's precisely what happened.

It isn't by chance that this woman was referred to as as human computer:
  • In 1977 in the USA she competed with a computer to see who gives 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.

I won't even dare you to try out any of those calculations yourself, as you'd probably get frustrated after still being stuck with it after the first couple of minutes; but one has to wonder: how many more of these amazing human beings are still out there, roaming our small little planet unnoticed as we speak?

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