November 4th: Shakuntala Devi!

Today’s Doodle honors Shakuntala Devi, making her the third woman who has been honored with a U.S. Doodle in the past two weeks. That is something the Google Doodles program has never done before, and I applaud them for it. While they still have a long way to go to achieve gender parity, this indicates they’re making a real effort. I’m excited as the end of the year approaches, and look forward to sharing 2013’s statistics (and comparing them to the disappointing results of 2012).

The Doodle honoring Shakuntala Devi, posted on November 4th, 2013.

The Doodle honoring Shakuntala Devi, posted on November 4th, 2013.

That’s for another post — today, let’s learn more about today’s honoree!

Shakuntala Devi, born on this date in 1929, was known as the “Human Computer” for her incredible ability to do complex computations very rapidly, and only in her head. During her tours in the 1950s through 1970s, she was presented with randomly selected problems and was always able to answer correctly. In many cases, it took special computer programs and a great deal of time to verify that her answers were correct, even in cases where Devi required only a few seconds to produce the answer. The Wikipedia article linked above shares a couple of examples, including a 1977 race between her and a computer to find the 23rd root of a number with 201 digits — which resulted in a victory for Devi. Her amazing abilities also landed her in the Guinness Book of Records.

Devi’s prodigious talent was discovered when she was a very young child, before she had even had the opportunity for any formal education. Eventually, she made a career of performing and showing her talents for audiences, touring internationally. She was the author of several books, with many focusing on mathematical brain teasers and insights into her mathematical process.

Devi was honored with the Ramanujan Mathematical Genius Award. She passed away in April of this year.

Shakuntala Devi, photographed in 2006.

Shakuntala Devi, photographed in 2006.

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