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How is maths used in the real world?

For most people, memories of maths at school consist of pointless questions of “I went to the shop and bought..” or overcomplicated trigonometry and Pythagoras’ theorem. And then of cause, that question uttered in the back of every classroom “What is the point?”

Here are four reasons to try and answer that question:

1)   Bank security

Every time you buy something on Amazon or order your weekly shop online, the secret world of maths is protecting your bank details. A system called RSA uses really large prime numbers that can be divided by two other really large prime numbers. This acts as a lock and key. You give the lock (the first prime number), and the company has the key (the second prime number), meaning only they can open it.

2)   Voting

Every law or decision that controls your life comes from the government and in most democratic countries, the voters get to choose that. But there is also maths in controlling who gets chosen. Different voting systems can produce different winners. It has actually been proven that a candidate can lose against every other candidate and still win under the system that we have. The maths of the system used can decide who gets into power and therefore who controls the fate of the country. So yes, pretty important.

3)   Jobs and credit scores

All those personality tests and job applications use maths to find whether you fulfil the characteristics needed for the job at hand. The system can decide who you are and what you do by a code. Similarly, credit scores are controlled by algorithms, keeping the poor, poor and the rich, rich.

4)   Building

Mechanics use maths to model the world. Building bridges, skyscrapers and houses. Basically, everything you see around you is built from maths.

The more I’ve learnt about maths (and I have to admit that isn’t that much, as I’m only halfway through my A Levels), the more I realise “the point”. Trigonometry isn’t to see who can measure the length of a triangle without a ruler and algebra isn’t to see who can remember a shopping list. Maths is the key to modelling the chaos of life into a system that fits. Whether that’s through modelling bridges and skyscrapers or causing a financial crisis, maths controls our lives if we like it or not, so yes we should all take an interest.

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