algorithm

noun

al·​go·​rithm ˈal-gə-ˌri-t͟həm How to pronounce algorithm (audio)
: 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
algorithmic adjective
algorithmically adverb

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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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web But the plaintiffs in the case, the family members of a person killed in a 2015 ISIS attack in Paris, have argued that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm can be held liable under a US antiterrorism law. Brian Fung, CNN, 20 Jan. 2023 The Hadid effect is that the 26-year-old model has nailed a street style algorithm that no other celebrity has been able to quite accomplish. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, 29 Dec. 2022 For better or worse, these accounts can turn a TikTok user’s personal algorithm into a hyper-curated feed of traditional grandma experiences. Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic, 21 Dec. 2022 Most famously, Google’s PageRank algorithm settles the matter with a tautology: the most relevant web page was the one that had the most links from the other relevant web pages. Scott Penberthy, Scientific American, 7 Dec. 2022 Otherwise, the algorithm’s approximation technique simply isn’t efficient, wiping out any meaningful improvement over classical computers. Quanta Magazine, 7 Dec. 2022 Another compelling use case for ChatGPT is the AI creating a script of Seinfield in which Jerry needs to learn the bubble sort algorithm. José Adorno, BGR, 5 Dec. 2022 The more popular the videos, the more often YouTube’s algorithm recommended their posts to kids. R.t. Watson, WSJ, 26 Nov. 2022 While there is no algorithm that can amplify certain posts over others and no ads to distract users, there are drawbacks. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 8 Nov. 2022 See More

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.

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

1926, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of algorithm was in 1926

Dictionary Entries Near algorithm

Cite this Entry

“Algorithm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/algorithm. Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition

algorithm

noun
al·​go·​rithm ˈal-gə-ˌrit͟h-əm How to pronounce algorithm (audio)
: a step-by-step method for solving a problem (as finding the greatest common divisor) or accomplishing a goal

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