algorithm

noun
al·​go·​rithm | \ ˈal-gə-ˌri-t͟həm How to pronounce algorithm (audio) \

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 How to pronounce algorithmic (audio) \ adjective
algorithmically \ ˌal-​gə-​ˈrit͟h-​mi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce algorithmically (audio) \ 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 There are financial inequalities that are going to come from some of these algorithms. David Z. Morris, Fortune, "How marketers are increasingly using A.I. to persuade you to buy," 31 Jan. 2020 The algorithm then quickly identifies common patterns to decode the messages between catchers and pitchers. Popular Science, "The best way to steal signs in baseball," 28 Jan. 2020 One of the challenges of studying the effects of artificial intelligence on white-collar employment is that the integration of algorithms into office work happens slowly, and often imperceptibly. Sheelah Kolhatkar, The New Yorker, "Could New Research on A.I. and White-Collar Jobs Finally Bring About a Strong Policy Response?," 14 Jan. 2020 So actually more like adding a troll score or changing the structure of the algorithm? Nicholas Thompson, Wired, "It's Easy to Be a Jerk on Twitter. And Twitter Wants to Fix That," 13 Jan. 2020 Researchers studied the performance of 189 algorithms from 99 manufacturers representing most of the industry. Curtis Tate, USA TODAY, "Racial bias in facial recognition software: What travelers should know as TSA, CBP expand programs," 31 Dec. 2019 The same is true of most machine-learning algorithms. Courtney Linder, Popular Mechanics, "Why Machine Learning Is Still Dumb (And How We Might Fix It)," 17 Dec. 2019 Neural networks rely on complex sets of algorithms and can be trained to recognize patterns in data. Chelsea Harvey, Scientific American, "Millions of Birds Are Migrating Earlier Because of Warming," 17 Dec. 2019 Archaeologists have rediscovered 143 more enormous drawings called geoglyphs etched on the rocky ground of Peru's Nazca Desert, with one of the finds coming courtesy of a machine-learning algorithm. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "Archaeologists found 143 more images among the Nazca Lines," 2 Dec. 2019

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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Time Traveler for algorithm

Time Traveler

The first known use of algorithm was in 1926

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Statistics for algorithm

Last Updated

4 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Algorithm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/algorithm. Accessed 17 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for algorithm

algorithm

noun
How to pronounce algorithm (audio)

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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