Man vs. Machine: Why math still matters

On August 6, 1945 the world changed - and math had a lot to do with it. A Japanese city was obliterated in a heartbeat and the atomic age was announced to the world.

The Manhattan Project aimed to build the first atomic bomb. But it was not only a competition between warring nations to build a great weapon. It was also war of man vs. machine.

At that time, both human and electronic minds raced to complete the millions of calculations necessary to calculate detonation shock-wave flow patterns and chain-reaction outcomes.

Computers working their asses off

Computers working their asses off

 

When World War II began, a “computer” was a person hired to do computation. When the war ended, the meaning of the world changed. Now,  a computer was a thinking machine.

Is this really as good as it gets?

In the decades since the war, the computer has been increasingly taking over our math responsibilities. We lean on the computer for everything. Even engineers, businessmen and physicists - those who pride themselves in their math skills - have lost the calculation race to the machines.

The science fiction books and movies of the 1980s promised us an easy life where computers did our work for us. To a large extent, that future has arrived. But something is off.

While our computers can do our taxes for us and our phones can wake us up in the morning, we have also developed a reliance on machines that is almost irreversible. On the plus side, we have become god-like creatures that are half machine and half human, with undreamed powers at our fingertips.

But have we given up too much of our self reliance in exchange for promises of convenience and self-indulgence?

Smart phones = lazy brains

The smartphone is the latest gadget to grab our attention and create a dependency that is difficult to refuse. This little magic box has turned us all into neck-craning social cyborgs with immense powers to control and change our lives for better and for worse.

Smartphones connect us. They remind us. They remember for us.

But they can also trap us. Inhibit us. Limit us.

Each of us needs to consider how we use our smartphone. Is it a tool that improves our lives, or something that is used to keep ourselves away from enjoying our lives?

That is the crossroads where we now stand.

Futureproof your mind

Many of us are recognizing that the world is bigger that the screen in our hands, that we you look up into the eyes of another human, a one-second connection is stronger than a thousand likes.

We recognize that living means being present and presence leads to a need to make our own choices. This means comprehending options and outcomes. And comprehension in itself is often mathematical in nature. But the smartphone isn’t always the best tool to do this with.

Let’s use our smartphones for training - not for doing.

  • Learn how to calculate percentages so that you can know if you are really getting a good deal at the store.

  • Study statistics so that you can understand the misleading numbers that politicians spout from their podiums.

  • Remember those math skills when you are negotiating your salary and the value of your pension

  • Be confident in the knowledge that is in your head, not on your screen

It’s time to wake up from the long slumber of contentment and ignorance we have created with our smartphone reliance. Machines don’t run the world. We do.

But don’t throw your smartphone away just yet. Smartphones are powerful learning tools that can help us acquire the skills needed to take control of our lives and train, exercise our brains and maintain the skills we have.

That’s why we created Get9, a mental math game that helps you learn the skills to function without the screen.

Help us take back our brains again. Join our Facebook community, sign up as a tester, download our game*, and recommend us to people you know.

*Get9 is currently only available in the Danish App Store. It will be available worldwide on April 20th.
 

Why build a math game company?

In 2008, my oldest son came home looking in a bad mood. His math homework was due.

Excited to help, unsuccessfully tried encourage and motivate him. He was intimidated and anxious over the fact that he couldn’t even start the assignment. More than that, he didn’t feel any motivation to do the homework - it would only end in failure, he thought.

I changed course. I tried to make a game out of it. This changed everything. He lit up and solved the questions quickly. He didn’t seem to mind the initial failures either.

So what just happened?

Why did my son’s attitude change so quickly - and how could I help ignite that spark in others?

My son always knew he had to do the work, but he was hesitant to start. The black and white outcomes of the task were too much for him to handle.

And that’s just how math is. Any task with a binary outcome that is as absolute as night and day. Either you are completely right or you are absolutely wrong. In the classroom, a wrong answer can have major consequences.  If you answer wrong, your doubt is confirmed for all your classmates to see. These are your friends. Your social circle. And even if you answer correctly, the reward is small.

Many older children start wonder - why is it worth it? Why is math necessary? Calculators and computers seem to do the work for us these days. Math is just for school.  This leads many to think that math class is a trap - a painful, risky effort to achieve nothing but more work and the hope that the next mistakes won’t lead to even more embarrassment. No one wants to be wrong and no one wants to come in last.

That’s where games come in.

When I transformed my son’s homework into a game, I saw an interest for math that I had never seen in him before. I was amazed. I knew games were powerful tools for behavioral change, but his transformation surprises me nonetheless.

And that made me angry. Because I remembered what school was like for me. I wasn’t motivated, so math class was full of constant guilt and self-loathing. I knew it was important because adults told me so. It was important that I did my math homework and everyone seemed to agree that of all the skills that I learned in math class at school were second only to reading and writing.

It was clearly important to everyone else, but it never felt important to me. Not even once.  No matter the teacher, no matter what kind of math, I always knew it was important and I never felt it.

Twenty years later and nothing had changed.

On the contrary, the world seemed to just accept that children are going to be bored when they learn math. Nothing was going to change that. Children will just need to be dragged kicking and screaming through years of failure and bad grades. Even worse, those that do learn math and maybe even enjoy it can look forward to a post-school world where they slowly but inevitably forget all the math that they ever learned.

And so the journey began to make the change

Fast-forward 8 years.

Now, I am part of a company that works to make math feel like it matters. With support from the Danish Ministry of Education, our first game Get9 is now available in the App Store*.

Get9 is one of those games that you just can’t stop playing. It’s basis is simple - a game where you can compete with friends over math.

Behind the App is Rubicon Games, a small band of dedicated people trying to change the math world for the better.  Our mission is to make math feel like it matters. We don’t teach. We won’t explain. We just make math fun and enjoyable.

 

Let’s make math matter together. Join our Facebook community, sign up as a tester, download our game*, and recommend us to people you know.

 

 

 

*Get9 is currently only available in the Danish App Store. It will be available worldwide on April 20th.