# The alphabet of the universe

## Manuel Dedio has developed an “app for non-enthusiastic mathematicians”

**Although most remember him as a philosopher, Plato was one of the most important promoters of mathematics in ancient Greece. Galileo Galilei, another famous philosopher and scientist, once waxed lyrically about mathematics being the alphabet that god used to describe the universe. An alphabet that is difficult for many to "read". Manuel Dedio wants to change that. He has developed an “app for non-enthusiastic mathematicians”.**

Germany is recognised worldwide for its engineering. However, it seems as if the days when the country could rest on its laurels are over. The understanding of mathematics and other natural sciences is shrinking rapidly. Roughly 25% of today’s 15-year-olds in the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which are approximately 16 million people, are no good at maths.

“There are two types of people,” says Manuel Dedio. There are those who feel comfortable and at ease with maths; and those who curse everything that has to do with letters, triangles, and formulas. Those who intuitively understand maths find it difficult to explain it to other people.

Approaching maths through language and philosophy is therefore the idea behind an AI-based learning app that Dedio and his colleagues have developed. “Leibniz was a philosopher and mathematician,” he says, “and we, too, want to shoot with both feet.” When using language, it is easier to explain the symbols that are commonly used in maths. He does feel he has a basic understanding of numbers, says the 35-year-old. He even completed a commercial apprenticeship. At the time, he decided to “overcome his own barriers” but he also felt it wasn’t really going anywhere. “Certain areas of the brain are required for abstract thought, which is necessary for mathematics,” he says. Abstraction, however, requires “a proper way of explaining”, namely, with tiny steps and illustrations. The wrong intuition won't get you anywhere. The saving method of “rote learning” that is propagated at schools might help you to graduate, but it won’t give you a deeper understanding.

Dedio began by launching a Youtube channel called Mathropolis, from which “Epapa” emerged. “We wanted to become the best maths tutors and help young students to learn to like maths. Above all, we wanted to support people who had difficulties with it.” For his app, he asked himself the following questions: How do maths work? What is maths? How can they be “described”? Using language first, not symbols. First, the obstacles to using the app should be kept deliberately low to avoid fear of contact and enable a hassle-free start. The aim is to have people “get into” mathematics. This is helped along by microlearning units, a high level of interaction, reading units, playful elements, exercises, and targeted feedback. It additionally includes four distinct, self-developed, virtual characters. The teacher Epapa, the students Markus and Stephanie, and the dog Puppy. This is further illustrated by the app’s split screen, which signifies the two-world approach. The imagined world, maths, made up of numbers and variables—and the real world that is made up of symbols that relate to the mathematically imagined world.

Dedio launched a YouTube channel to test his learning methods in the spring of 2021. This was followed by a product development grant in October 2022, which brought him to the so-called Founder’s Villa at Freie Universität Berlin. Nine months of work later and the young company has now been based at K.I.E.Z., a Berlin-based AI accelerator, since October 2023 with the aim of establishing contacts with schools. The app should be available in app stores by spring.

*Rico Bigelmann for Potenzial*