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ChatGPT can solve math problems, but there are some limitations

Does AI calculate the same way as a calculator?

Reviewed By: Steve Hook

Last Updated on April 3, 2024
Image shows the ChatGPT symbol on a green background below the pc guide logo
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ChatGPT is an LLM (Large Language Model) developed by OpenAI that can generate human-like responses. It has been trained on a huge text dataset and can answer various questions, but how well can it answer math problems? The ease with which the AI model can solve advanced math problems and calculations has left many people wondering if the chatbot can help out with their math homework. In this article, we will walk you through the capabilities of ChatGPT in solving math problems.

Quick answer

ChatGPT is able to slove a number of different math problems, including addition, subtraction, multiplcation, and division. However, due to it’s technical capabilities as a natural lanuage model, it might not solve every question with 100% accuracy. It sometimes struggles with complex math equations that require a specific formula or method.

ChatGPT can solve math problems

ChatGPT can consistently solve basic math problems such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. For example, if you ask ChatGPT a simple question like what 5+5 is, it will respond with the correct answer, 10. Similarly, asking what 20-5 is, it will respond with an accurate answer of 15.

A screenshot of a messaging conversation where one user asks "5+5=" and ChatGPT responds with "the result of 5 + 5 is 10, effectively showcasing its ability to solve

In addition to this, ChatGPT can solve more complex math problems such as calculus, differential equations, geometry, and trigonometry with reasonable accuracy. The only downside is that it’s not as reliable as a calculator, because it does not use pure arithmetic. Instead, it learns in a contextual way, similar to humans, and the output (or response) will be based on what it has learned. This is an inefficient way to process numbers.

It can use deep learning algorithms to understand the problem and generate a solution. However, due to its nature as a natural language model, it may not always be able to solve the problem correctly, especially if it is too complex or requires a specific method or formula outside of ChatGPT’s ability. Although it will be able to perform math to a certain level of accuracy, ChatGPT undoubtedly excels more at essays and essay writing.

Using ChatGPT to learn math

ChatGPT can provide step-by-step solutions to math problems and explain the underlying concepts and formulas. This can help the average college student and professionals understand the logic behind the solution and improve their math skills.

Additionally, ChatGPT can generate many math practice problems for students to complete, and lead to their improvement of difficult concepts. The use of ChatGPT with the help of plugins, such as custom instructions, can enable the chatbot to act more directly as a teacher and is definitely worth exploring for the user.

The chatbot can generate a question based on a prompt such as “Write me an equation to solve”, then create a solvable question, provide a method to answer the question, and then solve it.

A screenshot of a ChatGPT's explanation detailing the quadratic equation and its solution using the quadratic formula.

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Limitations of ChatGPT in solving math problems

While ChatGPT is a powerful tool for solving math problems, it has limitations. One limitation is that it may not always be able to solve complex math equations that require a specific method or formula. Additionally, it may not always provide the most efficient solution to a problem. Moreover, it may not solve problems requiring real-world knowledge or context, as logical reasoning remains one of the limitations of ChatGPT.

When you blend the pure arithmetic of a calculator with the expressiveness of a neural network, it turns out you get the worst of both worlds. A calculator that sometimes just makes things up.

Can ChatGPT do math - A natural language calculation
ChatGPT calculating a natural language equation

Notice how, in the image above, ChatGPT fails to replace every instance of the number 5 with the number 6. There are two “5”s, but the AI chatbot only replaced the first of them.

In addition to this linguistic lack of attention to detail, the answer was objectively wrong anyway.

513 * 71.378 = 36616.914

This then divided by 9.3567 equals 3913.44320113

Not 3915.181, as calculated by ChatGPT.

What we see here is that ChatGPT is not only limited by decimal length in output but internally truncated to keep server costs down. As a result, the errors from decimal shortening carry over, giving us an incorrect answer.

On the flip side, the logic capabilities of ChatGPT will only ever expand and improve. As the successor to GPT-3, GPT-4 is an advanced multimodal model that outshines ChatGPT in many ways, including its math problem-solving abilities. As a large language model, math is not the forte of GPT-4. However, it still performs at high difficulty levels, and further updates to the GPT model will only see it perform better math and more advanced.

Other AI math tools

There is a collection of ChatGPT alternatives, but most AI chatbots will struggle with math problems. However, Google DeepMind has recently developed an artificial intelligence system called AlphaGeometry. This AI system, specialized for arithmetic, “solves Olympiad geometry problems at a level approaching a human gold-medalist.”

In our benchmarking set of 30 Olympiad geometry problems (IMO-AG-30), compiled from the Olympiads from 2000 to 2022, AlphaGeometry solved 25 problems under competition time limits. This is approaching the average score of human gold medalists on these same problems. The previous state-of-the-art approach, known as “Wu’s method”, solved 10.

Google DeepMind

Can ChatGPT solve math problems in an image?

Yes, to some degree of accuracy. It needs to be said that this degree of accuracy is not sufficient for most things. Only rely on ChatGPT if a ballpark figure is acceptable.

There are two elements to this question. Can ChatGPT identify math problems written within an image? Does it then have the proficiency and accuracy to solve them?

Firstly, ChatGPT can indeed recognize math problems, visually speaking. ChatGPT 4 has computer vision, thanks to the GPT-4V model, meaning that it can read ‘text’ in an image. Text in an image is not strictly text. Instead, it is a sequence of pixels that ‘look like’ text. What seems like a banal distinction to us is an insurmountable hurdle to most computer systems. Computer vision solves this.

Secondly, once it has recognized the problem, it must solve it. This is where ChatGPT falls short. At this moment in history, no AI system can reliably solve math problems and may encounter errors of varying degrees. This is due to the nature of the way artificial intelligence works, and ‘thinks’. However, a recent breakthrough from Google DeepMind may solve this problem. Researchers at Google have developed a hybrid system that allows an AI system to rely on the pure arithmetic of a calculator as need be while saving the NLP (natural language processing) for non-mathematical tasks. This will most likely make Google Gemini the first chatbot to reliably solve math problems.

Conclusion

ChatGPT is a powerful tool for solving math problems. It can solve simple and complex math problems in a matter of seconds, give explanations of concepts and formulas, and provide step-by-step solutions.

However, it has limitations and may not always be able to solve complex problems or provide the most efficient solution. Nonetheless, ChatGPT can be useful in solving various math problems and explaining their solutions in detail.

If you’re truly interested in using AI to help you directly with math, there are several options you can check out if you’re concerned the limitations of ChatGPT will be a significant issue. These additional resources include Wolfram Alpha, which is available as a Wolfram Plugin for ChatGPT Plus, and the Photomath app.

Kevin is the Editor of PC Guide. He has a broad interest and enthusiasm for consumer electronics, PCs and all things consumer tech - and more than 15 years experience in tech journalism.