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 \ -​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

The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently announced that Twitter chief Jack Dorsey will testify before the panel on Sept. 5 about the platform’s algorithms and content monitoring. Yaron Steinbuch, Fox News, "White House 'taking a look' at regulating Google," 28 Aug. 2018 Designers use predictive algorithms and principles of behavioral economics to keep fans engaged. Anchorage Daily News, "Video game addiction tries to move from basement to doctor's office," 18 June 2018 To test their new technique Ota and his team trained a machine-learning algorithm to recognize the signatures of breast and pancreatic cancer cells, both from humans. Diana Kwon, Scientific American, "“Ghost” Cytometry May Improve Cancer Detection, Enable New Experiments," 14 June 2018 Two Sigma is known for its strategy of trading based on algorithms and artificial intelligence. Lucinda Shen, Fortune, "Here's Why Investors Should Be Wary of Bitcoin, According to This $52 Billion Hedge Fund Cofounder," 6 June 2018 Using the results, the researchers were able to train a computer algorithm to predict, at a rate well above chance, the social distance between two people based on the relative similarity of their neural response patterns. Natalie Angier, New York Times, "You Share Everything With Your Bestie. Even Brain Waves.," 16 Apr. 2018 Matthew Nock, a Harvard professor, has tried to train an algorithm to comb through patients’ medical records and produce advance warnings of suicide risk, but these methods are still plagued by false positives. The Economist, "How and where growing numbers of Americans are taking their own lives," 28 Mar. 2018 In phototagging for instance, failure to train an algorithm with a broad data meant Google Photos failed in some cases to recognize the faces of black users. Ethan Chiel, New Republic, "The Injustice of Algorithms," 23 Jan. 2018 Sign in to Netflix any night and, chances are, the app's algorithm will recommend at least one to you. Kayleigh Roberts, Marie Claire, "Awkwafina Will Be in the 'Jumanji' Sequel, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson Confirms on Twitter," 6 Jan. 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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Dictionary Entries near algorithm

algophagous

algorism

algorist

algorithm

algorithmics

algous

algraphy

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Last Updated

18 Mar 2019

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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

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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