Updated: 12/29/2017 by Computer Hope

Derived from the name of the mathematician Muhammed ibn-Musa Al-Khowarizmi, an algorithm is a solution to a problem that meets the following criteria.

  1. A list of instructions, procedures, or formula that solves a problem.
  2. Can be proven.
  3. Something that always finishes and works.

Examples of how algorithms are used today

Today, algorithms are used billions of times every day for a variety of tasks. Below are a few of the different ways algorithms are used today.

  • Algorithms help control traffic lights.
  • Computers use algorithms to convert data (e.g., converting decimal into binary).
  • Google search uses the PageRank algorithm to sort search results.
  • Encryption to encrypt and decrypt information and keep data safe is an algorithm.
  • GPS uses algorithms to find the best route to a destination.
  • There are dozens of sort algorithms that are used to sort data.
  • Smartphones, Wi-Fi, and wireless communication use algorithms to communicate.
  • E-mail spam detection uses algorithms to filter out bad e-mails.
  • Data compression for getting information faster (e.g., YouTube video) use algorithms.

When was the first algorithm?

Because a cooking recipe could be considered an algorithm the first algorithm could go back as far as when writing. However, many find Euclid's algorithm for finding the greatest common divisor to be the first. This algorithm was first described in 300 B.C. Ada Lovelace, is credited to be the first computer programmer and the first person to develop an algorithm for a machine.

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