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 \ 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 The demo will also show the system’s AI computer vision algorithms, its Phanthom training computer and its electro-optical/infrared sensor. William Thornton | Wthornton@al.com, al, "Huntsville firm to demonstrate system for U.S. Army," 22 Jan. 2020 The thesis behind the algorithm, developed during the last decade by two Rutgers University professors, is that environmental factors have an outsize influence on crime and that small informed changes to neighborhoods can prevent it. Nic Garcia, Dallas News, "Crime in Dallas isn’t as random as you may think. Here’s how police can predict it.," 13 Jan. 2020 Once processed by algorithms (that increasingly include facial recognition), this treasure trove of data generates quarterly profits in the order of billions of dollars for Facebook. K.n.c., The Economist, "Open Future A cry for freedom in the algorithmic age," 10 Jan. 2020 Still, Hollywood fancies itself as a town that operates on gut instinct rather than algorithms, for better or for worse. Tatiana Siegel, The Hollywood Reporter, "Warner Bros. Signs Deal for AI-Driven Film Management System (Exclusive)," 8 Jan. 2020 TikTok’s algorithm, which brings content to users from far and wide, helps videos acquire instant virality. Sanaya Chandar, Quartz India, "Can’t make your video go viral on TikTok? Maybe your grandma can help," 19 Dec. 2019 There’s no algorithm, spreadsheet, or fancy analysis that spits out definitive answers. Adam Feuerstein, STAT, "Here are the nominees for best biopharma CEO of 2019. Vote for your favorite!," 16 Dec. 2019 Some algorithms, for example, scan millions of records to flag high-risk patients for follow-up treatment. Michael Price, Science | AAAS, "Hospital ‘risk scores’ prioritize white patients," 24 Oct. 2019 The company’s algorithm -- software formulas that determine what people see in their feeds -- and content policies have a tremendous effect on whose voices are heard. Los Angeles Times, "Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook empowers a peoples’ ‘fifth estate’ to effect change," 17 Oct. 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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Time Traveler for algorithm

Time Traveler

The first known use of algorithm was in 1926

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Statistics for algorithm

Last Updated

18 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Algorithm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/algorithm. Accessed 29 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for algorithm

algorithm

noun
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

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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