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

Is there a way to kind of organize it, without necessarily an algorithm, but that still kind of cleans it up for you? Eric Johnson, Recode, "Taking a page from YouTube, Snap VP Nick Bell wants to find the next generation of media stars," 25 Oct. 2018 The map is based on an algorithm that uses historic foliage patterns and data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Condé Nast Traveler, "Interactive Foliage Map: Know When Leaves Will Peak This Fall," 11 Sep. 2018 Why would an algorithm pick something about immigration? Fox News, "Kellyanne Conway reacts to anonymous 'resistance' NYT op-ed," 5 Sep. 2018 They were selected using an algorithm that excluded people less likely to have committed subsequent immigration fraud based on, say, their advanced age at the time of deportation, according to Department of Justice officials. Adiel Kaplan, miamiherald, "Miami grandma targeted as U.S. takes aim at naturalized immigrants with prior offenses," 9 July 2018 Therefore, YouTube’s algorithm is practically designed to radicalize its users — and hence poison our politics. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "The 9 thinkers who made sense of 2018’s chaos," 27 Dec. 2018 The first: Accusations that the search giant’s algorithms are biased against conservative content, a popular complaint that conservative politicians have also lobbied against other major tech companies, like Facebook and Twitter. Shirin Ghaffary, Recode, "Live updates from Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s testimony to Congress today," 11 Dec. 2018 Thanks to an algorithm change that is now emphasizing local discussion, the article dominates the conversation in a small town. Casey Newton, The Verge, "Facebook’s morale problem is getting worse," 6 Dec. 2018 Enter Night Sight which uses machine-learning to choose just the right pixel information, and push up brightness, detail and color in whatever final photo Google’s algorithms have prescribed for the shot at hand. Jon Phillips, PCWorld, "Google Pixel 3: The 5 features that matter most," 9 Oct. 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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Learn More about algorithm

Dictionary Entries near algorithm

algophagous

algorism

algorist

algorithm

algorithmics

algous

algraphy

Statistics for algorithm

Last Updated

18 Feb 2019

Look-up Popularity

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

technical : 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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