Math is important and I’m a big fan. No hard feelings about that time I got a 50 on a calc final in college. I still like math (plus I passed the class). But a new app called PhotoMath is making all those high school classes feel a little more pointless. You just take a picture of any equation and the app does the rest.
When PhotoMath captures the problem you’re trying to solve, it gives you an answer and you can elect to see the steps it used to get to that answer. Created by text recognition company MicroBlink, the app is meant for students who don’t get enough tailored instruction at school or who can’t afford tutors and other aides. By seeing the steps to answering a problem, they can learn how a particular concept/strategy works. PhotoMath could also be useful for parents trying to help their kids with homework.
But let’s be real here. Kids are going to use this app to cheat, right? A MicroBlink spokesperson told Quartz that that’s not the intention behind the product. And since there are so many ways to cheat already out there—Wolfram Alpha, TI graphing calculators, friends who are better at math than you—it doesn’t even seem like PhotoMath will make much of a difference. Though it is extremely simply to use. Tempting.
The main barrier to cheating using PhotoMath right now is that you can’t necessarily trust its results. The app works well enough for simple problems, but it still falters on complicated equations. And as Yahoo Tech points out, it sometimes mistakes things like “x” variables for the multiply symbol. Additionally, PhotoMath can only analyze problems that are typed out, it can’t read handwritten equations.
Former math teacher and current math education graduate student Dan Meyer wrote on his blog on Wednesday that:
We should wish PhotoMath abundant success—perfect character recognition and downloads on every student’s smartphone. Because the only problems PhotoMath could conceivably solve are the ones that are boring and over-represented in our math textbooks.
The math teachers are ready for PhotoMath. Are you?