In the fourth season of The Big Bang Theory, Leonard has a great idea: an app that solves differential equations. Now, Croatian-British startup MicroBlink has made that answer a reality with the very self explanatory application PhotoMath. If there was concern in higher education about smartphones being used to cheat in exams, now that fear has become even more justified.
Aim a camera and get an answer
PhotoMath operates in the most intuitive and easy to use manner: You just need to use your smartphone’s camera. After running the app, you aim the camera at the equation or exercise, and within seconds, without even pressing one button, the solution will appear on the screen. Just like that. To reach this level of simplicity, the application uses an advanced and fast OCR algorithm that identifies the characters and digits in front of you instantaneously.
But the application does not stop there. If you want, with one click you can see all the steps taken to get to your final answer. The solution can be broken down into the step-by-step actions, and the user can simply browse back and forth between the different steps. The app currently supports arithmetic functions like addition, subtraction, division and multiplication; fractions and decimals; roots and powers; and simple linear equations with one or two unknown variables. Application developers are promising that additional, more complicated functions will be introduced in the near future to solve calculus and combinatorics equations.
A genius or horrible application?
Getting past the initial, impressive impression this application makes, its main problem, at least in our opinion, is cheating. While any student with PhotoMath downloaded on their smartphone can save precious time and solve equations perfectly, teachers and professors of all age levels will realistically start making sure that cellphones are not in classrooms while students are taking tests (if they haven’t done so already).
With this in mind, our main concern is that the application will harm students’ exercises, such as homework. Teachers will have no way to verify how a student solved a particular problem, and students may use the application to complete their homework rather than do the exercises on their own. It is important to remember that this relatively young application is developing students that will constantly exaggerate their mathematical abilities.
You can also watch a video demo of PhotoMath here: