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

Three years ago, Katie Bouman, then a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spearheaded the creation of an algorithm that would allow the world, on Wednesday, April 10, to witness the first-ever image of a black hole. Kristen Bobst, Teen Vogue, "Women Like Katie Bouman Helped Us See a Black Hole for the First Time," 12 Apr. 2019 This inevitably puts the rights of multibillion dollar companies to control every fleeting use of their intellectual property far above an average user's right to not be censored by an algorithm that's looking out for Disney's bottom line. Eric Limer, Popular Mechanics, "EU Passes New Copyright Rules That Could Have a Disastrous Effect," 26 Mar. 2019 The application, filed on May 10th and published today, covers an algorithm that would identify elements of photographs — like faces or other details— and cross-reference them with other data to build a profile of an entire household. Adi Robertson, The Verge, "A Facebook patent would use your family photos to target ads," 15 Nov. 2018 Then, an algorithm—designed by human programmers and data scientists—processes those images and uses machine learning to analyze them by cross referencing the image to other data sources. Diana Budds, Curbed, "Facial recognition is becoming one of the 21st century’s biggest public space issues," 19 Oct. 2018 Tygart said athletes were selected for testing based on an algorithm that assesses internationally established risk factors, like performance improvement, ranking, biological analysis, the competition calendar, injury and research on doping trends. Karen Crouse, New York Times, "For Tennis Players, Numbers in Antidoping Program Don’t Add Up," 3 July 2018 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

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

Statistics for algorithm

Last Updated

15 Apr 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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