ChatGPT Is Not Able to Train Geometry (But) — science weblog
In November 2022, the startup OpenAI launched a “analysis preview” of ChatGPT, a pc program that would shortly and fluently reply questions posed in pure language, write essays and fictional tales in response to prompts, and maintain up its finish of a written dialog on a startlingly wide selection of matters. ChatGPT and its successors will disrupt and remodel many human actions—together with training—for higher or for worse.
So far, most training reporting has highlighted ChatGPT’s potential to facilitate dishonest and plagiarism. On HITC, Ellissa Bain described how ChatGPT might “Write Your Papers in Seconds,” explaining that that is “nice for college kids” and “examiners won’t ever know.” It’s by no means nice for pupil studying, however it will possibly undoubtedly idiot examiners; a workforce on the New York Occasions Upshot confirmed {that a} small group of consultants—together with a instructor, a professor, a tutor, and a wellknown youngsters’s writer—usually failed to differentiate between ChatGPT’s output and the writing of precise fourth and eighth graders in response to essay prompts from the Nationwide Evaluation of Training Progress. In The Atlantic, instructor Daniel Herman pronounced “The tip of highschool English,” explaining that “what GPT can produce proper now could be higher than the massive majority of [student] writing.” ChatGPT might examine Hamlet to Beloved, illustrate Buddhist concepts utilizing a pet hamster, and write a convincing essay describing how its (fabricated) expertise volunteering at a pet shelter had ready it for fulfillment at Stanford. The bot’s capacity to manufacture an admissions essay raises the query of whether or not faculties that not require standardized exams might want to drop the essay requirement as properly.
However does ChatGPT have authentic instructional makes use of? I acquired to questioning if ChatGPT might supply correction and steering as college students labored by math issues. Some tutoring programs (equivalent to Mathia or ASSISTments) can supply assist when college students go offtrack, however that assist usually comes within the type of canned textual content or video highlighting challenges that, although widespread, don’t all the time deal with what’s tripping up a particular pupil in a specific drawback. And if college students stay confused, present tutoring programs can’t reply to followup questions in pure language.
Can ChatGPT present suggestions and reply questions on math in a extra tailormade and pure means? The reply, in the meanwhile, isn’t any. Though ChatGPT can discuss math superficially, it doesn’t “perceive” math with actual depth. It can’t appropriate mathematical misconceptions, it usually introduces misconceptions of its personal; and it typically makes inexplicable mathematical errors {that a} primary spreadsheet or hand calculator wouldn’t make.
Right here, I’ll present you.
Can ChatGPT discuss Pythagoras?
A few days in the past, I requested ChatGPT the next query:
Clarify learn how to use Pythagoras’ theorem in phrases {that a} center faculty math pupil would perceive. Embrace an instance.
ChatGPT supplied its reply in much less time than it will take me to kind it:
Pythagoras’ theorem is a approach to discover the size of a lacking facet of a proper triangle (a triangle with one 90 diploma angle). It states that in a proper triangle, the sq. of the size of the hypotenuse (the facet reverse the appropriate angle) is the same as the sum of the squares of the opposite two sides.
Thus far I used to be impressed. I’d choose to see these two lengthy sentences unpacked into three or 4 brief ones, and I’d prefer to see a proper triangle outlined explicitly as one with a proper angle. However ChatGPT’s reply was correct, and it adopted up with examples—not simply the one instance I requested, however two. [1]
Think about we now have a proper triangle the place the 2 shorter sides (referred to as the legs) are 3 inches and 4 inches lengthy. We wish to discover the size of the hypotenuse (the facet reverse the appropriate angle).
In accordance with Pythagoras’ theorem, we are able to discover the size of the hypotenuse through the use of the components:
hypotenuse^2 = leg1^2 + leg2^2
Plugging within the values from our triangle, we get:
hypotenuse^2 = 3^2 + 4^2
hypotenuse^2 = 9 + 16
hypotenuse^2 = 25
So the size of the hypotenuse is the sq. root of 25, which is 5 inches.
Right here’s one other instance:
Think about we now have a proper triangle the place the hypotenuse is 5 inches lengthy and one of many legs is 3 inches lengthy. We wish to discover the size of the opposite leg.
We will use Pythagoras’ theorem to unravel for the lacking leg through the use of the components:
leg^2 = hypotenuse^2 – leg1^2
Plugging within the values from our triangle, we get:
leg^2 = 5^2 – 3^2
leg^2 = 25 – 9
leg^2 = 16
So the size of the lacking leg is the sq. root of 16, which is 4 inches.
I hope this helps! Let me know when you have any questions.
These examples have been correct, too, however they each described the identical proper triangle, with sides of size 3, 4, and 5—a longstanding cliché in introductory geometry. It could have been higher to explain two completely different triangles, and it will have been higher to elucidate the place the components for the second instance got here from. I requested for clarification:
Wait. The place did you get this components? leg^2 = hypotenuse^2 – leg1^2
ChatGPT defined:
In a proper triangle, the hypotenuse is the facet reverse the appropriate angle, and the opposite two sides are referred to as the legs. The components I supplied, leg^2 = hypotenuse^2 – leg1^2, is solely one other approach to write Pythagoras’ theorem, which states that in a proper triangle, the sq. of the size of the hypotenuse is the same as the sum of the squares of the opposite two sides.
In different phrases, if you realize the size of the hypotenuse and one of many legs in a proper triangle, you need to use this components to search out the size of the opposite leg.
This little bit of armwaving—it’s “simply one other means”—wouldn’t be terribly helpful to a confused pupil questioning how the second components was associated to the primary. ChatGPT adopted up with an instance, however it was the identical instance it had already given, worded precisely the identical means.
Thus far ChatGPT’s output wasn’t pedagogically optimum, however it wasn’t horrible, both, and I couldn’t say that each human geometry instructor would have defined issues higher.
However does ChatGPT actually “get” Pythagoras?
However might ChatGPT go deeper? Educating consists of greater than explanations and examples. A Schaum’s Define can present these. However good academics also can anticipate, diagnose, and proper pupil misunderstandings. So I requested ChatGPT:
What are some widespread misunderstandings of Pythagoras’ theorem?
ChatGPT responded with 4 examples, which I’ll take simply barely out of order. The primary three have been howlers:
Some widespread misunderstandings about Pythagoras’ theorem embrace:

 Believing that it solely works for proper triangles. Whereas Pythagoras’ theorem is mostly used to search out the size of a lacking facet in a proper triangle, it will also be used to find out whether or not a triangle is a proper triangle. If the lengths of the edges of a triangle fulfill the components of Pythagoras’ theorem (i.e., if the sq. of the size of the hypotenuse is the same as the sum of the squares of the opposite two sides), then the triangle is a proper triangle.
 Believing that it solely works for proper triangles with a 90 diploma angle: Pythagoras’ theorem is particularly designed for proper triangles, which have one 90 diploma angle. Nonetheless, it’s attainable for a triangle to have two acute angles (angles lower than 90 levels) and nonetheless be a proper triangle.
 Believing that it solely works for proper triangles with legs which might be perpendicular to one another: In a proper triangle, the edges that aren’t the hypotenuse are referred to as the legs. Whereas it’s true that the legs of a proper triangle are usually perpendicular to one another, this isn’t a requirement for the concept to be relevant. So long as a triangle has one 90 diploma angle, Pythagoras’ theorem can be utilized to search out the size of a lacking facet.
Not one among these three “widespread misunderstandings” is definitely fallacious, and the truth that ChatGPT listed them as fallacious means that it has some misunderstandings of its personal. ChatGPT doesn’t appear to know that Pythagoras’ theorem solely applies to proper triangles, and it doesn’t notice that each one proper triangles have a 90 diploma angle and legs which might be perpendicular to one another. It additionally doesn’t appear to comprehend that no triangle can have multiple angle that’s 90 levels or better, and that suggests that it doesn’t know a basic truth of geometry: that the angles of a triangle should add to 180 levels.
The opposite false impression that ChatGPT supplied had extra to it:

 Believing that it solely works for proper triangles with legs of integer lengths: Pythagoras’ theorem can be utilized to search out the size of a lacking facet in a proper triangle with sides of any size, not simply integer lengths.
That is in actual fact a false impression. Sadly it’s one which ChatGPT strengthened by repeatedly utilizing the instance of a proper triangle whose sides are 3, 4, and 5 inches lengthy. I gave this system some credit score for recognizing the difficulty, however I additionally puzzled if it might deal with noninteger lengths itself. So I requested:
Suppose the hypotenuse of a proper triangle is 7.1 miles lengthy, and one of many legs is 3.85 miles lengthy. How lengthy is the opposite leg?
ChatGPT’s reply was clear however contained a stunning error:
To seek out the size of the opposite leg, you need to use the Pythagorean theorem…. On this case, the hypotenuse has size 7.1 miles, and one leg has size 3.85 miles. Let’s name the size of the opposite leg x. The Pythagorean theorem might be written as an equation as follows:
(7.1)^2 = (3.85)^2 + x^2
Fixing for x, we get:
x = sqrt((7.1)^2 – (3.85)^2)
Plugging within the values and simplifying, we get:
x = sqrt(50.41 – 15.0225)
x = sqrt(35.3875)
x = 5.93 miles
Subsequently, the size of the opposite leg is 5.93 miles.
Do you see the error? It’s minor however bizarre. ChatGPT plugged within the fallacious worth (15.0225) for the sq. of three.85 (which ought to be 14.8225), and consequently it gave the fallacious remaining reply (5.93 as a substitute of 5.97). It’s not a giant mistake, however it’s not only a rounding error. Any pupil checking the steps with a hand calculator or spreadsheet would surprise, as I did, why they weren’t getting the identical consequence.
How can a pc program launched in 2022 get the fallacious reply when squaring a quantity? Is ChatGPT jerking my chain?
In mild of ChatGPT’s confusion concerning the angles in a proper triangle, I puzzled if it will acknowledge a proper triangle if I described it not directly. So I began my subsequent query:
Suppose a triangle has three sides referred to as A, B, and C. A is 7 inches lengthy and B is 7 inches lengthy.
Now I meant to explain a proper isosceles triangle. like this—
—however I made a typo. I ought to have typed this:
The angle between A and C is 45 levels, and so is the angle between B and C.
However as a substitute I typed this:
The angle between A and C is 45 levels, and so is the angle between A and B.
which is not possible if A and B are the identical size, as I had beforehand acknowledged they have been. Try to draw a triangle that meets my specs; you possibly can’t.
Now ChatGPT might have expressed confusion or requested for clarification, however it didn’t. It plowed proper forward. After I completed my query,
What’s the size of facet C?
ChatGPT began its reply:
For the reason that angle between A and B is 45 levels, and the angle between A and C can be 45 levels, the triangle is an isosceles proper triangle, the place A and B are the legs and C is the hypotenuse….
This doesn’t make sense. If A and B are the legs of a proper triangle, the angle between them can’t be 45 levels; it must be 90. ChatGPT went forward and calculated the size of C utilizing Pythagoras’ theorem, however it had revealed one thing vital: it didn’t have a coherent inner illustration of the triangle that we have been speaking about. It couldn’t visualize the triangle as you or I can, and it didn’t have any equal approach to catch errors in verbal descriptions of visible objects.
In brief, ChatGPT doesn’t actually “get” primary geometry. It will possibly crank out reams of textual content that use geometric terminology, however it actually doesn’t know what it’s speaking about. It doesn’t have an inner illustration of geometric shapes, and it sometimes makes primary calculation errors.
The issue goes past geometry
Geometry is just not the one educational space the place ChatGPT has bother. In my very subsequent query, motivated by the function that phonics performs in instructing younger youngsters to learn, I requested ChatGPT to translate a few sentences into the worldwide phonetic alphabet (IPA). ChatGPT stated it couldn’t try this, and I give it credit score for understanding its limits, however then it advised that I exploit Google Translate. After I reported again that Google Translate can’t use IPA, both, ChatGPT apologized for the misunderstanding.
What’s ChatGPT doing? It’s bloviating, filling the display with textual content that’s fluent, persuasive, and typically correct—however it isn’t dependable in any respect. ChatGPT is commonly fallacious however by no means doubtful. It acts like an knowledgeable, and typically it will possibly present a convincing impersonation of 1. However usually it’s a form of b.s. artist, mixing reality, error, and fabrication in a means that may sound convincing except you will have some experience your self.
The academic functions of a instrument like this are restricted. All around the web, academics are discussing the attainable makes use of of ChatGPT to tutor college students, write lesson plans, or generate quiz questions. They should be cautious. Whereas ChatGPT can generate reams of primary materials, and a few of it is going to be helpful, academics must confirm the whole lot to keep away from passing on misinformation to their college students.
My expertise was disappointing, however maybe I mustn’t have been stunned. In spite of everything, on December 10, OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman tweeted that ChatGPT has issues with “robustness and truthfulness” and “it’s a mistake to be counting on it for something vital proper now.” Different consultants have commented that ChatGPT typically “lies” or “hallucinates.” ChatGPT’s interface alerts customers that this system “could sometimes generate incorrect info.” On the subject of geometry or the capabilities of Google Translate, this can be a grave understatement.
These might change into shortlived issues, fastened within the subsequent model—or they might persist for a few years. There are about 250 exceptionally gifted folks working at OpenAI, and the truth that they launched ChatGPT in its current situation means that its issues could not have a straightforward repair.
Within the nottoodistant future, we could have clever applications that may tutor college students in particular topics—applications that may converse in pure language, draw on deep and correct representations of topics like geometry, and acknowledge and proper the widespread missteps and misconceptions that result in fallacious solutions. However we aren’t there right now. Right now some instruments (e.g., Wolfram Alpha) can do geometry, and a few (e.g., Mathia or CTAT) can hint some fallacious solutions to their sources—however these instruments depend on specific subjectspecific programming and can’t converse in pure language. In the meantime AI instruments like ChatGPT can converse fluently in pure language—however don’t appear to know the fundamentals of core educational topics like geometry.
Regardless of its limitations, ChatGPT is publicly out there, and a few college students and academics are going to make use of it. Not all of them will use it fastidiously. We will not be ready for the implications.
Paul T. von Hippel is professor and affiliate dean for analysis within the LBJ Faculty of Public Affairs on the College of Texas at Austin.
1. I’ve added indenting to make ChatGPT’s calculations extra readable.