al·​go·​rithm | \ ˈal-gə-ˌri-t͟həm How to pronounce algorithm (audio) \

Essential Meaning of algorithm

technical : a set of steps that are followed in order to solve a mathematical problem or to complete a computer process

Full 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 The Mirai model uses an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to predict breast cancer risk more accurately based on radiology images. Jennifer Kite-powell, Forbes, 6 Oct. 2021 The secret sauce, however, is the wave-function collapse algorithm that stitches them all together, the same mathematics that helped shape the infinitely variable environments of his previous game Bad North. Lewis Gordon, Wired, 2 Oct. 2021 This series offers new details about Facebook’s algorithm, how criminals use the platform for human trafficking and how Instagram affects mental health. The Journal., WSJ, 15 Sep. 2021 After processing the visual information using wavelets, Daubechies and her team deployed a deep neural network algorithm — typically used for facial recognition — to separate the content of the X-rays. New York Times, 14 Sep. 2021 Well, this team and the last several groups to break the world record have used a special formula called the Chudnovsky algorithm, developed in 1988. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, 18 Aug. 2021 There's something old school and more authentic to me about an email because there is no algorithm to it. Hannah Chubb,, 1 Oct. 2021 Odds are the TikTok algorithm planted the Alabama Rush videos onto a variety of FYPs. Samantha Olson, Seventeen, 12 Aug. 2021 For a month, this model, called RoseTTAFold, was the most successful protein prediction algorithm that other scientists could actually use. Grace Huckins, Wired, 12 Aug. 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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The first known use of algorithm was in 1926

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Last Updated

18 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Algorithm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Oct. 2021.

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Nglish: Translation of algorithm for Spanish Speakers

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


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