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 algorithm (audio) \ adjective
algorithmically \ ˌal-​gə-​ˈrit͟h-​mi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce algorithm (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 TikTok had an important, distinct feature: a refined algorithm for serving up videos to users based on their interests, one ByteDance built through experience creating similar technology for Toutiao, its news aggregator. Abram Brown, Forbes, "The Inside Story Of TikTok’s Tumultuous Rise—And How It Defeated Trump," 5 May 2021 In 2013, Herzing and her team at the Wild Dolphin Project used a machine-learning algorithm called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT), designed to identify meaningful signals in dolphin whistles. Philip Ball, The New Yorker, "The Challenges of Animal Translation," 27 Apr. 2021 Data alchemy’s other component is, of course, the A.I. algorithm. François Candelon, Fortune, "How ‘data alchemy’ could help businesses make the most of A.I.," 5 Mar. 2021 The difference is that, even if Fox News or Rush Limbaugh spread demented lies about the Clintons, there was no algorithm feeding their audience ever-sicker stuff to maximize their engagement. Arkansas Online, "OPINION | MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Clinton QAnon obsession," 8 Feb. 2021 But how can a computer algorithm in a self-driving car learn to process an image of a pedestrian, classify it as such and do the same? Devi Shastri, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Powerful new supercomputer will open doors for research and education at UW-Eau Claire," 26 Apr. 2021 Ultimately, our guidance is much more valuable in terms of building trust with our clients, as opposed to predicting specific ranking, traffic, conversion, or other business metric outcomes resulting from any particular algorithm update. Gyi Tsakalakis, Forbes, "Preparing Clients For The Google Page Experience And Other Updates," 20 Apr. 2021 YouTube’s recommendation algorithm suggested more-extreme videos involving personalities like Mr. Robinson, a former member of the neo-fascist and white nationalist British National Party who was born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. New York Times, "Feeding Hate With Video: A Former Alt-Right YouTuber Explains His Methods," 15 Apr. 2021 One final hurdle would need to be overcome before a singular algorithm could be applied to vaccine distribution nationally. USA Today, "Could we save lives by assigning each American a place in line for vaccines?," 14 Apr. 2021

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

15 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Algorithm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 May. 2021.

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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

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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