Willem Klein is, of course, called “The Human Computer.” Now 64, he discovered a passion for numbers as a child in Amsterdam. A Jewish doctor’s son, he had to hide from the Nazis during the war. Afterward he made a living as “The Man with the 10,000-Pound Brain” in European music halls. In 1958 CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research) near Geneva recognized his talents and hired him. At the time he was far more efficient than the center’s computer.
Still a showman, Klein had a rapt audience at the CERN auditorium when he set out to break his own record of 3 minutes 43 seconds—and did so by a full minute. “He is an artist,” observes a CERN physicist. Only one shadow dimmed the event: Modern computers have overtaken even Klein’s wizardly speed. So this year the Human Computer will retire. He intends to move back to Amsterdam, visit the schools and “show children how to have fun with numbers.”