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 That means TikTok’s parent, ByteDance, might need approval from the Chinese government to sell off its prized algorithm — adding another political obstacle to overcome with the U.S. ban less than three weeks away. Washington Post, "TikTok sale slowed as Chinese government may get involved," 3 Sep. 2020 News organizations have bristled at its willingness to make drastic changes to its News Feed algorithm, often causing digital traffic for publishers to plunge. Daisuke Wakabayashi, New York Times, "Facebook Could Block Sharing of News Stories in Australia," 31 Aug. 2020 Facebook removed 790 QAnon Groups this week, but tens of thousands of other Groups amplifying disinformation remain, with Facebook’s own recommendation algorithm sending users down rabbit holes of indoctrination. Nina Jankowicz, Wired, "Facebook's ‘Kill Switch’ Solves the Wrong Problem," 21 Aug. 2020 In other words, any algorithm with control of the stick will need to consider what humans can withstand. Rob Verger, Popular Science, "Watch a computer clobber a human pilot in a simulated fighter jet duel," 21 Aug. 2020 An algorithm designed to solve the problem posed by the pandemic, which prevented children from sitting their exams, instead created another of the disasters which have punctuated the government’s crisis-management. The Economist, "Bagehot How the British government rules by algorithm," 20 Aug. 2020 The second is the recommendations algorithm, which pushes followers from one account to the next, linking accounts that post similar content and have similar sets of followers. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, "The Women Making Conspiracy Theories Beautiful," 18 Aug. 2020 Facial recognition is having a tough month after Amazon declared a moratorium on police use of its facial recognition algorithm for at least a year. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, "The HVAC System of the Future Swaps Thermostats for Thermal Cameras," 17 June 2020 Thus Nanaya, a love prediction algorithm, was born. Stephen Marche, Wired, "A Rocket Scientist’s Love Algorithm Adds Up During Covid-19," 21 Aug. 2020

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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Last Updated

11 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Algorithm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for algorithm


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

Nglish: Translation of algorithm for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of algorithm for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about algorithm

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