Algorithm

Algorithm

An algorithm is the instruction or formula that tells a computer how to execute and solve a certain task step by step. This is a short introduction into algorithms.

An algorithm is the instruction or formula that tells a computer how to execute and solve a certain task step by step. This is a short introduction into algorithms.

In order to get a computer to execute a task a computer program needs to be written. But for you to be able to write a computer program at all you need to instruct the computer step by step on what you want to do. An algorithm is the instruction or formula that tells a computer how to execute and solve a task step by step. An algorithm can be compared to a cooking recipe. A recipe tells you how to solve a problem (baking a cake), and an algorithm instructs a computer how to solve its problem (for example calculating the fastest possible route between two points on a map).


What is an algorithm?

Mathematically speaking, an algorithm is an unambiguous description of how to solve a problem. The algorithm exists to find a solution, regardless of what the problem is. A classic example is the sorting of a deck of cards no matter how the card game is put on the table. An algorithm describes the sorting step by step and determines the order of the steps. Even the fastest computer will seem slow if it runs a bad and slow algorithm. 


How are algorithms used?

Algorithms are used in all kinds of computer programs. It tells the program how to execute a specific task. Nowadays, algorithms are used everywhere. They determine what your Facebook feed shows you, the search results you receive on Google, what route your GPS sends you and the offers you receive on Amazon. They are also responsible for a majority of the global stock trade. Usually, algorithms are written by human beings but there are many examples for algorithms programmed by a computer through machine learning, that is to say artificial intelligence.


Over the last years there has been an increased focus on algorithms. This is in part due to some unfortunate patterns and some algorithms are given a lot of unseen power over people’s lives - also on an inappropriate level. One example is Facebook being designed to show people what it knows that they like. By doing this, Facebook creates an echo-chamber-mechanism that increases the political divide. You could call it algorithmic radicalization, in a manner of speaking.

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