algorithm

noun
al·​go·​rithm | \ˈal-gə-ˌri-t͟həm \

Definition of algorithm 

: a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation broadly : a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end There are several search engines, with Google, Yahoo and Bing being the biggest players. Each search engine has its own proprietary computation (called an "algorithm") that ranks websites for each keyword or combination of keywords. — Julie Brinton … sometimes you solve a problem by coming up with an algorithm of some kind. But sometimes you solve a problem in a very ad hoc sort of way. — William H. Huggins

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Other Words from algorithm

algorithmic \ˌal-​gə-​ˈrit͟h-​mik \ adjective
algorithmically \-​mi-​k(ə-​)lē \ adverb

What Does algorithm Mean?

The current term of choice for a problem-solving procedure, algorithm, is commonly used nowadays for the set of rules a machine (and especially a computer) follows to achieve a particular goal. It does not always apply to computer-mediated activity, however. The term may as accurately be used of the steps followed in making a pizza or solving a Rubik’s Cube as for computer-powered data analysis.

Algorithm is often paired with words specifying the activity for which a set of rules have been designed. A search algorithm, for example, is a procedure that determines what kind of information is retrieved from a large mass of data. An encryption algorithm is a set of rules by which information or messages are encoded so that unauthorized persons cannot read them.

Though first attested in the early 20th century (and, until recently, used strictly as a term of mathematics and computing), algorithm has a surprisingly deep history. It was formed from algorism “the system of Arabic numerals,” a word that goes back to Middle English and ultimately stems from the name of a 9th-century Persian mathematician, abu-Jaʽfar Mohammed ibn-Mūsa al-Khuwārizmi, who did important work in the fields of algebra and numeric systems.

Examples of algorithm in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

When the Italian researchers applied their algorithm to directors, the most influential were George Cukor, Victor Fleming, and Alfred Hitchcock. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Complex networks study ranks the most influential films of all time," 3 Dec. 2018 Amazon Web Services won’t see the data processed by its algorithms, which will be encrypted and unlocked by customers who have the key, Dr. Kass-Hout said. Laura Stevens, WSJ, "Big Tech Expands Footprint in Health," 27 Nov. 2018 In the meantime, WebMD has done an update of its algorithm. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "Eye doctors find that WebMD symptom checker was wrong more than half the time," 30 Oct. 2018 The photo-sharing platform, which is owned by Facebook, has taken steps to alter its algorithms and search system to try to stay ahead of people who use the site’s hashtags to market drugs Oxycontin, Percocet and other substances. Christopher Carbone, Fox News, "How Instagram is cracking down on illegal drug sales," 27 Sep. 2018 So King wants to know: Could some clever researcher develop rules capable of classifying news as true or false—rules that could be shared with other people, platforms, algorithms, and universally applied? Robbie Gonzalez, WIRED, "Facebook Opens Its Private Servers to Scientists Studying Fake News," 11 July 2018 Drivers and passengers are connected via an algorithm, controlling for possible customer bias. Washington Post, latimes.com, "Study of Uber drivers finds men earn more than women — for three key reasons," 9 July 2018 They are made by feeding a computer an algorithm, or set of instructions, lots of images and audio of a certain person. Deb Riechmann, The Seattle Times, "I never said that! High-tech deception of ‘deepfake’ videos," 3 July 2018 They are made by feeding a computer an algorithm, or set of instructions, lots of images, and audio of a certain person. Deb Riechmann, BostonGlobe.com, "‘I never said that!’ The high-tech deception of ‘deepfake’ videos," 2 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'algorithm.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of algorithm

1926, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for algorithm

alteration of Middle English algorisme, from Old French & Medieval Latin; Old French, from Medieval Latin algorismus, from Arabic al-khuwārizmi, from al-Khwārizmī flourished a.d. 825 Islamic mathematician

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Dictionary Entries near algorithm

algophagous

algorism

algorist

algorithm

algorithmics

algous

algraphy

Statistics for algorithm

Last Updated

9 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for algorithm

The first known use of algorithm was in 1926

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More Definitions for algorithm

algorithm

noun

English Language Learners Definition of algorithm

: a set of steps that are followed in order to solve a mathematical problem or to complete a computer process

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More from Merriam-Webster on algorithm

Spanish Central: Translation of algorithm

Nglish: Translation of algorithm for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of algorithm for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about algorithm

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