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

That’s not a complicated algorithm for reducing the incidence of hearing loss in patients and instructors. Julia Belluz, Vox, "How your cycling class could give you hearing loss," 31 May 2018 Legalist, a San Francisco litigation finance firm uses a computer algorithm to predict the likelihood of winning by weighing the type of claim, outcome of similar cases, previous rulings by the judge and the financial strength of the defendant. L.m. Sixel, San Antonio Express-News, "Private equity funds deploy new investment strategy: financing lawsuits," 29 May 2018 DonorNet relies on a complicated algorithm to decide who should receive the organs. Shari Rudavsky, Indianapolis Star, "'This room becomes sacred.' The heroic and heartbreaking journey of one organ donor's body," 17 May 2018 The pizza chain also plans to introduce a new delivery algorithm and online mapping to make the delivery system more efficient. Kirsten Korosec, Fortune, "Pizza Hut Expands Beer Delivery Experiment," 8 May 2018 He is rejected by Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, for reasons that may be known only to a non-sentient algorithm. Shuja Haider, The New Republic, "Silicon Valley’s Rigged Game of Life," 3 May 2018 And the Portuguese Digitalab employed a digital algorithm to craft two abstract light fixtures from a mesh made of sustainable cork thread. Vanessa Lawrence, ELLE Decor, "The Lexus Design Awards at Milan Design Week Highlight the Industry's Social Conscience," 26 Apr. 2018 The auditing sites use a software algorithm that scrapes Amazon's website for suspicious patterns or attributes of the review or the reviewer. Author: Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg, Anchorage Daily News, "How merchants quietly use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews," 24 Apr. 2018 Stanford researchers used a deep-learning algorithm to identify cancerous spots in medical images. Marschall S. Runge, STAT, "Artificial intelligence will put a premium on physicians’ knowledge and decision-making skills," 19 Apr. 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

14 Oct 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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