Required, Technology - Written by on Friday, July 22, 2011 7:05 - 0 Comments

Ex-Apple UI Designer Wants to “Kill Math”: Why That’s Good.

Bret Victor demo of app on Vimeo

by Elbert Chu

Bret Victor thinks math is overdue for a user interface upgrade. His ideas could help designers and teachers find new ways to help wired students find better ways to understand complex mathematical concepts.

Basically, Victor thinks the whole thing with equations and numbers are essentially a case of outdated user interface. For example, imagine the difference between multiplying MXXVI and CLXXVIII. Thanks to the Arab UI upgrade, today we get to use 1026 and 178 instead— making multiplication accessible to the masses.

On his site, Victor writes:

I believe that both of these forms of mental contortion are artifacts of pencil-and-paper technology. A person should not be manually shuffling symbols. That should be done, at best, entirely by software, and at least, by interactively guiding the software, like playing a sliding puzzle game. And, more contentiously, I believe that a person should not have to imagine the interpretation of abstract symbols. Instead, dynamic graphs, diagrams, visual models, and visual effects should provide visceral representations. Relationships between values, exponential blow-ups and negligible terms, should be plainly seen, not imagined.

Well, now Victor wants to upgrade the interface and apply it to complex equations like differential equations. Victor writes, “The power to understand and predict the quantities of the world should not be restricted to those with a freakish knack for manipulating abstract symbols.” So, naturally, the Victor, the ex-Apple designer went to work to develop a proof of concept on an iPad, check out this video for the stunning results:


Bad news: You won’t be able to download that app. With lots of sweat and tears poured into America’s STEM problem, we hope Victor’s ideas find an audience with educators and agents of change. Fast Company’s John Pavlus writes:

Although it can run on an iPad, Victor isn’t planning on releasing “anything resembling the design shown” as an app. “The prototype was intended to teach and inspire tool designers, so that’s the meta-audience.” It’s a variation on the old saw: give a man a fish, and he eats for a day, but teach him to fish, and he eats for a lifetime. If Victor is going to “kill math,” a single specific app won’t do it — but a set of inspiring examples just might, if they inspire others to think about how they can “kill math” themselves.

Check out Victor’s manifesto of sorts.

The full Fast Company article.


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