January 18, 2021 – After over 50 years of development, artificial intelligence has entered the production processes of cars, robots and the processing of large amounts of data. However, apps have also been developed for everyday use and thus for learning sciences such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, ecology, statistics, economics, finance, medicine, psychology, business management and teaching.
As people increasingly turn to mobile phones and tablets for everyday use, it’s no wonder that large companies are turning to developing apps for them.
In the search for such apps, it is immediately apparent that the majority are located in two locations.
Apple claims that there are 1.8 million apps for iPhone: https://www.apple.com/app-store/
One of the largest (2.56 million apps) is: https://play.google.com/store/ and contains really interesting and useful apps.
The first menu is:
It is obvious from the menu that they tried to cover all the significant activities and interests of the people.
In answer to the question of what machine learning experts have managed to do so far, and in order to be useful in our daily work, let’s look at specific collections of apps by fields.
Mathematics (keyword: mathematics)
Mathematics – advanced calculator; Photomath and Microsoft Math Solver – more than just an advanced calculator; Math Games and Math Tests.
How can these apps be be of use?
For example, you take a photo of a math problem and the app solves it for you. Photomath, whose originator is Damir Sabol, and which is one of the best apps, works exactly like that. After solving the problem, the app then shows step by step how the solution was reached. So, it is useful for learning mathematics.
As soon as you tap the icon, a page appears explaining how it can help you. The ranking is also on the page. A high rating (e.g. 5 stars) means that users have rated it as very useful. The page also contains user comments that show if and in what sense the app was useful and in which cases it did not work well.
Some apps are used for learning to solve mathematical problems, some contain mathematical games, some go deeper into theory, others contain a dictionary of mathematics, and there are apps with a list of formulas, most of them for high school and technical college students. However, as the main thing when searching is a set of keywords, if you need higher mathematics you should look under “calculus”, if you are looking for solutions of differential equations you should look under “differential equations”, and if you are looking for solutions of integral equations you shoulld look under “integral equations”. Of course, there are a couple of apps for partial differential equations, but they are not yet well developed, they are poor and not tested enough, so I do not recommend them.
Here is an app that is not among the first but is highly praised by users:
“HiPER Scientific Calculator is a popular calculator with more than 25 million downloads and 100,000 five-star ratings.” Five stars is the highest rating.
Whether the app is useful or not you can find out from the users’ reactions. E.g. for Math – Solver – math camera solver (not pictured above) the rating is 3.3, which is bad. Here’s what users write: “It doesn’t give me the right answer I HATE this app. I would not recommend this to anyone who is doing trigonometry. This is the worst app I have ever installed!” And on the other hand: “I love this app, if you have a math exam use this. I really like it”. But: “Whenever I scan the problem my camera shows a different location than the one I scanned. Please fix this. ASAP”. Therefore, first, focus your interest on apps that have high user ratings.
Similar to mathematics: statistics can be learned, data can be entered and viewed in different graphs within descriptive statistics, hypotheses can be tested, there are apps with formulas, there is also an app for learning R and books on statistics.
What can be usefully done with these apps?
You can learn the part of general physics that you are missing. You don’t need a book. You can solve some physical problem because there are relevant formulas in the apps. For example, you can calculate if, with the largest telescope on Earth or a Hubble in Earth orbit, you can see a car you forgot on the Moon? Solution: You can’t. You have to look for it with a telescope around the Moon. You can review standard experiments to make the laws of physics clear to you.
Geographic information systems
If you are familiar with GIS or you work with it, there are apps for that as well. Even more than I could have hoped for.
At first glance, it seems that there is “really everything”. This is not true, but there are useful, instructive, interesting, and even unusual apps. Most of them have something to do with GIS systems, whether they are trying to teach us how to handle certain of the manufactured software, to display and manipulate maps, or to point us to existing sources of maps of different types. Some of the mentioned apps could be useful during fieldwork as well.
“Gisella is a mobile GIS app that allows you to create and manage all geographic objects directly on your mobile device.”, “We are using it on an archaeological survey in Australia and have found it to be just what we need.”
However, before installing, be sure to check the user ratings. It seems that even the largest companies still have unresolved issues, so use is not always without problems. But companies like to hear about problems they are unaware of and periodically release new versions of the software.
Identification of plants
There are really interesting, beautiful and useful apps here. The principle is simple: you take a photo of a plant, flower or leaf and get its name. There are also apps for games, quizzes and for learning botany.
Here too the principle is the same as in plant identification. But as with plants, the question is how many insects are in the base. With just over 1000 taxa, sometimes identification will not be successful. Still, you should try the first couple of the most popular ones that have the highest user ratings and make sure they have the largest base.
Identification of spiders
Here you should be careful as some apps have nothing to do with spiders as animals. As we can see from the pictures above, some apps do not only identify spiders but also other insects and even birds and this may mean that their spider database is poor.
The principle is the same as with plant identification: take a photo of the insect and find out the name of the species, its characteristics and distribution – of course, given that the app gets it right. Some apps are more successful in identification, and the range goes from very useful to almost useless. The user guide on the app page is always the best indicator – and don’t limit yourself to the first five users, but look at what the others are saying as well.
To identify butterflies, look under “Identification of butterfies” and you will get about twenty apps. You can also learn how to make paper butterflies and there are beautiful posters.
Of course, for freshwater fish you should search for: “identification of freshwater fish”.
I did not find any good apps for shellfish identification. However, many more useful apps in that segment are expected soon.
Identification of mushrooms
There are useful apps for mushroom identification in the field, identification games from the image database, but also detailed instructions for growing mushrooms. It is estimated that we have about 8500 species of mushrooms, but these apps contain only from 200 to 500 species, so do not expect that the app will always recognize each species. Of course, before installation, check what users are writing and what their experiences are because some apps need an Internet connection when working, others do not, and some are paid versions, but the basic version is usually free.
Identification of birds
A paradise for bird lovers! There are several types of apps on the list: manuals on bird taxa transferred to an app that is used in the same way as the manual; identifying birds by taking photos by smartphones; identifying birds according to their voices, educational games with birds, posters of birds and birds in cartoons, as well as soothing melodies of songbirds – which some people really like to listen to while working.
Of course, this whole area is under development so don’t always expect it to work flawlessly and be sure to read the user experience before installing any of them.
Identification of animal tracks
There are some useful apps, but here’s what the users say for the Picture Animal app (3 stars):
- “I tried taking a picture of my dad out of curiosity and it said he was a dog.” (Logically, there is no picture of a man in the app, so the closest was a picture of a dog)
- “This app isn’t accurate at all, and it seems like it’s only designed to” identify “vertebrates, NOT invertebrates.”
- “Great app use it quite often for teaching animal identification to youth.”
So, you should first look at the ratings in the form of stars. If the app has three stars, don’t even look at it. Then it is mandatory to look at the app page and user experience because some apps are paid and others do not work as we would expect.
Field work in ecology apps
There are a lot of apps in this section that have nothing to do with fieldwork in ecology.
There is no choice but to look at Google with “the best apps for field research in ecology”
Merlin (on Google Play)
On Compass (on the Google play link under “Compass” you will find over 200 apps.
CyberTracker (on Google Play) (5 stars)
Next, it might help: GPS Loger, MOOTRACK, ODT Collect, iform; observation logger; fieled notes; itrack (mentioned above), MyTracks, Wolf GIS Apex, MapIt GIS-GPS data collector.
Identification of stars in the sky
You are looking at the sky and you don’t recognize Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter or any of the constellations visible in the sky tonight? These apps will help you much more than you expected.
However, be careful before installing and look at the number of users, their experiences and the ratings they have given, because some apps are paid or cannot be correctly oriented from where you are standing and trying to overlap what you see in the sky and what’s shown on the phone or tablet.
Travel on a spaceship called Earth in the time of Covid-19
Let’s say you’ve been sitting for an hour reading this text and possibly checking which apps would interest you the most. Do you know how big a distance you’ve traveled in space during this time?
Let’s have a look:
- The Earth is spinning and you have been sitting for one hour: 833 km (faster than an airplane).
- The Earth travels around the sun and you have traveled: 108,000 km (166 times faster than by airplane).
- The Sun revolves with the Earth around our galaxy and you have crossed: 800,000 km (1281 times faster than by airplane)
- The whole universe is arranged as if it’s on the edge of an expanding balloon, so you have covered another: 262,800 km (404 times faster than by airplane).
In total, you covered about one million, 171 thousand and 633 km in one hour, or 1800 times faster than if you had traveled by airplane. Yes, you will say, but I have not been anywhere. Wrong, you travel the internet even faster. But you haven’t talked to a friend or a colleague during that time? Exactly, you didn’t. But now you can send her or him this document and, who knows, maybe she or he will be interested. 😊
All of the above shows that there are some useful apps that can completely replace learning mathematics, physics, chemistry, statistics, ecology and GIS from books. There are also apps for testing of knowledge and for learning through play, as well as apps for identification of plants, birds, insects, fish, mammals and fungi. Finally, there are apps that could be useful in field observations or measurements.
Bearing in mind that there is a large number of them in the listed locations, when searching, it is important to search with keywords that best guess the purpose for which the app may be useful to you. So you need to try several times with different keywords.
Finally, before you install the app on your mobile or tablet, you should look at its page on a laptop or computer with a larger screen to quickly and easily read what exactly does the app do, and, what is equally important, how it is rated by the users.
Have fun exploring! 😊
Tarzan Legović, PhD
Head of the Scientific Council and of the Laboratory for Data Science