Shakuntala Devi, 'The Human Computer,' Honored in Google Doodle

Shakuntala Devi was known for her ability to crunch numbers quickly.

ByABC News
November 4, 2013, 1:26 PM

Nov. 4, 2013— -- High school memories of math class may come flooding back to people who visit the Google homepage. Today's Google Doodle features a familiar olive green calculator screen, with the search engine's name written as upside down numbers. The reason for the doodle? The birth of a calculator, though not the one that you punched numbers into to get through trigonometry.

Instead, today honors the birth of Shakuntala Devi, pictured to the left of Google's logo. Though Devi lacked a formal education growing up, she astounded people with her ability to crunch large numbers. "At the age of 6, I gave my first major show at the University of Mysore," she once said, according to The New York Times. "This was the beginning of my marathon of public performances."

It may be that during one of those performances that Devi got the nickname, "the human computer." In 1977, at Southern Methodist University in Texas, Devi raced a computer to figure out the 23rd root of a 201-digit number. The computer took 62 seconds to find the answer, while Devi found the solution in 50 seconds.

Unlike the old computer, Devi's abilities are still astounding to this day. An old clipping from The New York Times archives shows other arithmetic problems that she solved in under 20 seconds. In addition, she earned an entry into the 1982 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records for needing less than half a minute to both calculate and say aloud the product of two 13-digit numbers.

Devi died earlier this year from both cardiac and respiratory problems. She was 83 years old.