Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash broke 50 of India's equivalent to the Guinness World Records. He's currently on a mission to defeat math phobia in young learners.
Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash, 20, was named the world's fastest human calculator by the Limca Book of Records, India's equivalent to the Guinness World Records. He can reportedly process numbers at an average speed of 12 per second. This is around 10 times faster than the average person's brain. While he can now easily process a calculation like 869,463,853 times 73, for example, within seconds, he experienced a traumatic accident when he was five years old that changed his path forever. He fell from his cousin's scooter when it was hit by a truck and banged his head on the road. Bhanu, as he is more popularly known, spent his recovery period learning how to play chess and solving puzzles to keep his brain engaged. Since then, he has broken 50 Limca records, CNN reports.
Bhanu stated that he was able to perform such complex calculations at breakneck speed due to "structured practice." "Let's say I am doing a multiplication of 8,763 multiplied by eight," he said. "I'll probably multiply: 8,000 by eight which is 64,000, 700 by eight which is 5,600, 60 by eight which is 480, three by eight is 24. And I add all of these. But this requires the human brain to remember all this. The methods which I use are very similar to general methods but certain things -- basically (it's) brain optimization. I optimize my methods and make them better than before. At the end of the day whatever I call my methods, sometimes it just happens. There's a certain process, obviously, but since you have trained your brain, it just happens."
The math superstar, who has been likened to legendary Indian mathematician Shakuntala Devi, started his own journey in mathematics after his skull fracture. He was placed in a medically-induced coma after receiving 85 stitches and undergoing multiple operations. He woke up seven days later and spent the next year bedridden. He shared, "That accident changed the way I used to define fun and it is the reason why am here today. I remember the pain vividly, this is the most traumatic experience I have had in my life. I couldn't even go to school for a year. All I had to rely on to get better were numbers and puzzles." He then moved on to mathematical calculations.
Bhanu's struggle is why he will never call himself a prodigy, and does not want to be referred to as one either. "Definitely not, because I find the word 'prodigy' a little troubling," he said. "It just doesn't capture the efforts and experience, it's just a state that's obtained out of nowhere. [My fracture] drove me forward and I knew there's something that I am good at and I will prove myself there." Last month, on August 15, the 20-year-old from Hyderabad in India's southern Telangana state became the first Asian to win gold at the Mental Calculation World Championship at the Mind Sports Olympiad (MSO) in London. Further to this, he was the first non-European winner in the event's 23-year history. In his debut, he defeated 29 opponents from 13 different countries in order to win first place. However, he no longer wishes to take part in competitions. Instead, he hopes to fight "math phobia" in young learners. "For any country to develop and thrive globally, numeracy is as important a skill as literacy," Bhanu affirmed. "Three out of every four students who study in the government schools of India have trouble understanding basic mathematics."
He continued, "I am not sure if I am going to be participating in competitions anymore. I don't think I should. I have established my point that I am quicker. I am in a position that people hear me, I better use it. I don't want to be the face of mathematics, there are enough of those, and they are exceptional. I want to be the face against math phobia. Very simple." To accomplish this, he established in 2018 Exploring Infinities, an educational organization with a mission to make math cool, challenging, interesting, and immersive through tracking cognitive ability development using arithmetic games. "My experience began the day I went to a rural government school (in India) and realized kids there did not know that multiplication is repetitive addition," Bhanu explained. "That's what struck a chord and that's when I began my firm." Though his debut MSO victory may have been his last, Bhanu now has lots of time to dedicate to his philanthropic work—one calculation at a time.