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clioi's avatar

Is There Any Reason To Learn Math Still?

Asked by clioi (532points) January 5th, 2010

I am in college pursuing a mathematics degree, but I am more than a little threatened by the growing capability of computers to do pretty much every kind of math that we as humans need done. I’d like people’s insights and opinions on this topic. Do you think that computers will eventually take over all mathematical duties? If so, will there still be any incentive for humans to understand math?

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24 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

The incentive is to train your brain – I didn’t take Calc classes because it was ever going to come up again in my life – I took them for the difficulty, for how much I struggled, for how great I felt doing those proofs – it’s about building patterns, being able to work hard at something. Mathematics is an incredible field, don’t abandon it. A computer can be destroyed, but your brain is yours to rely on in any environment.

Ivan's avatar

Computers don’t program themselves.

DeanV's avatar

Well, to program those said computers to do all those math skills, you’re going to need quite some math skills yourself.

@Ivan beat me to it.

Trillian's avatar

I’m struggling with college math this semester. My degree is in technical writing, and I get A’s in all my course classes. This math thing is killing me and it’s the lowest possible math you can take and still call yourself a college student.
My son is a Junior and has done pre-calc I guess last year and Is doing some sort of pre-college stuff this year. I’m SO proud of him, and it is my goal to go back when I don’t have other classes to worry about and really LEARN algebra, geometry and even calculus. It is a dream of mine to be able to use a slide rule…
You’ll be in high demand after the apocalypse and we don’t have electricity anymore. ;-)

Ivan's avatar

Also, math is pretty important to science, and science is pretty important to everything.

jaytkay's avatar

Computers don’t know mathematics, someone has to do the programming.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Math is necessary for than just programming, no? Learning math’s beauty is incredible.

LocoLuke's avatar

Aside from learning how to do it for its own sake, people need to learn how to do it in order to advance humankind’s mathematical knowledge as a whole. Computers need programmers, and those programmers need to know the principles which allow their equations to work. It’s a bit like saying that because we have cars, we no longer need to know how to walk.

AnonymousWoman's avatar

I think that math is important. I am a very poor math student, so I’m not necessarily the best person to ask when it comes to measuring things around the house I live in to make sure that things fit just right. You may need math for simple things like that. You may also need it when it comes to calculating your finances. To completely rely on technology for math isn’t something that I advise, even though I do just that. What happens if that technology stops working? Then what?

kevbo's avatar

There are 100,000 (more) students in India who are eating, sleeping and breathing math. A couple of years ago a friend told me about an engineering professor at a graduate school who when he learned that he did not have Indian students in his class lamented that he had no one to teach (because these students had had enough preparation).

denimboy's avatar

There is MORE reason to learn math because of computers. You need to know discrete math, logic, statistics and more. If you like math and computers try majoring in applied math.

jaytkay's avatar

@kevbo There are 100,000 (more) students in India who are eating, sleeping and breathing math.

QUESTION: What is the best computer programming language for a college student?

[rimshot] Thanks, I just flew in from Mumbai and boy, are my arms tired. Don’t forget to tip the waitress, I’ll be here all week.

kevbo's avatar

@jaytkay, nice one. lolz.

DeeNice's avatar

I think math is EXTREMELY important. That being said, even thinking about math makes my brain hurt. If my BF and I get married and have kids he will HAVE to help with the math homework. Because if I do, that kid who doesn’t even exist yet is in a world of trouble!

clioi's avatar

thanks for the responses everyone. @LocoLuke, that was a really good analogy that kind of assuages my insecurities a little. also @Simone_De_Beauvoir, that was sort of one of my original thoughts, that eventually learning math would become a purely intellectual exercise.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I find understanding math to be extremely important. If you can’t do basic calculations correctly, how will you know if your inputs are correct? You have to have a general math sense to know if your answer is correct, in the likelihood that your inputs are not.

Knowing why the answer is what it is, is as important as having the answer.

ratboy's avatar

Mathematicians, for the most part, prove theorems. Computers seldom do. If you need an incentive, six of the Clay Institute’s seven “million dollar” problems are still open.

HTDC's avatar


= Yes

My mathematical formulation has proved that indeed we still need maths.

clioi's avatar

@ratboy yeah, i know about the millennium problems and actually it is sort of a fantasy of mine to solve or at least contribute to the solution of one (or more) of them. i agree that right now the advantage that humans have over computers is creativity. computers are generally far better at computation than humans could ever hope to be. they can perform computations faster than any human ever could, but their limitation comes in that they can only solve problems that they have been specifically programmed to solve. but sooner or later, artificial intelligence is going to get to the point where a computer can not only perform prescribed tasks but also formulate new ones.

YARNLADY's avatar

So many people get scared when you say “Math”, but really when you have to decide how to divide the available resources (cake) among the people who want some, that is math. What is so scary about that? Can a computer help you decide, I don’t think so.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I need to know the best interest rate and ROI when I’m investing my fat stacks. So I’d like to know some multiplication, ya know? And I need to understand when my accountant explains how to cut my capital gains taxes.

Plus, I want to be able to get the grand piano into my mansion without having to cut open the side of a wall.

When I bake a biscuit recipe and I need to double it, then being able to multiply fractions will be helpful.

When I play pool, I use plane geometry to help me figure out where I should hit the ball so it goes in the side pocket.

And so on, at least up to basic algebra and geometry. So yes, I need math.

jerv's avatar

Even though we often leave the brute force calculation to machines, we still need to understand the underlying theories at least well enough to program and operate computers properly. Have you ever been at the checkout and had a cashier who can’t count out correct change? If so then I think you see what I mean.

And then there are the slightly more practical applications. For instance, I work on cars. Sometimes I work on American cars that use SAE wrenches/sockets. Now, if 5/8” is a hair too small, do I go with the 19/32”? I happen to know fractions and be able to do them in my head well enough to know that that would be a waste of time; the 21/32” would be the right choice. That is just a simple example.

When I am working in a machine shop, things can get a bit more complex. Try figuring out the maximum RPM you can run a tool without burning it up due to a too-high surface speed and then figure the optimum feed rate at that RPM without causing excessive tool wear based on the RPM, the number of cutting edges, and the optimal chip size and you wind up doing a little geometry (Tool_circumfrence=pi * tool_diameter), unit conversion (to convert inches per revolution to surface speed), and simple math (to calculate feed per revolution and then combine that with RPM to come up with a linear feed rate).

That is part of the reason machinists get paid pretty well; that sort of math skill, while actually simple, is increasingly uncommon in this age where the average HS student is more concerned with finding proxy sites to log into Facebook from their school computer than actually learning.

Accountants need math, engineers need math, cashiers need math, anybody who gets paychecks or bills needs math… pretty much everybody needs at least some math and to understand at least some of the principles behind it. If nothing else, computers are not infallible!

Maltex's avatar

A computer is a great tool for thinking – also in math. For example dynamic geometry programs can (if they are rulebased) help to understand how euclidan geometry works. Computers are also great for calculations, but we still need people to tell the computers what to calculate… So go on and good luck with the college-degree ;-)

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