What is an Algorithm?


Algorithms are used in everything we do in one way or other. Say you got a new microwave; A new microwave comes with a set of instructions that tells you how to operate it. This operating manual is an Algorithm.

Do you like to cook? If you follow a recipe, that set of “instructions” which tells you how to prepare your culinary delight is also an Algorithm.

We could enumerate various things that too use specific Algorithms but suffice it to say that Algorithms are everywhere in our lives. Most use math and programming, and for those not using these, the definition is a bit vague.

In actuality, a programmer who does not care to explain their work, will jocularly state “it is an Algorithm;” and who could argue with that? 

YOU may have heard the term or even use it in a sentence, but what is it actually?

An Algorithm’s crux is quintessentially a predetermined guide to be followed “step by step” to complete something useful or solve a problem.

For a computer to manipulate data, complete a task or solve a problem, it needs a set of specific instructions. THIS is known as an Algorithm.

How do Algorithms work?

Computers use Algorithmic input and output to do their work. They intake the “instructions” from the Algorithm, apply each step, then propagate an output.  

If you have ever “googled” a query to educate yourself on a subject, basically, you have input a parameter for the computer to locate on the www, once done it gives you the results in an output.

Envision an Algorithm as a flowchart where the input comprises steps to follow in a specific order to completion. Once the task is done, the task results in an output.

Algorithms are used in Automation.

Ok, so far, Algorithms‘ definition seems unambiguous and easy to understand, but what are some other use cases of Algorithms? Well, in reality, they are used in broad-case scenarios.  

Algorithms are widely used in IT and computers. The technology can be used to finagle and transform data, make calculations, and decide on actions.  

Automation Software is one dynamic prototype of an Algorithm in action. Automation works by performing a set of rules to complete certain tasks. This set of rules is known as an Algorithm.

Many processes demand several Algorithms, and they work together to automate processes.

As an illustration, perhaps you needed automation software to be written to take all your customer invoices from email and put them onto a spreadsheet. You would need an Algorithm with that specific set of rules to complete that task for you.

In this case, every email is the input, which goes through the step-by-step process needed to finish the task. This process may include scanning the email to procure information needed for the spreadsheet. The data collected is the output.

SO, WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?

Basically, Algorithms are simply a map that gives directions on how to complete a task.  For computers, Algorithms are the list of step-by-step instructions used as input for the computer to finish a task as the output. You can be certain that our developers in Compumatrix use Algorithms in all their programming!

About the author

Born in Illinois and the third oldest child of 10 children. Gail learned many lessons in life that would serve her well in her future. Patience, sharing, compassion, understanding, love, and acceptance were a way of life. Family is significant to Gail as a mother of three herself.
Gail lives by the motto "live and let live," and she takes pride in helping others. Educated, yes, but believes life is the best teacher and learning depends highly on an open mind.

Comments

  1. Thank you Gail, very informative blog As always, algorithms are now an integral part of our lives, algorithms are used for calculations, data processing, we can also say that algorithms are a process that every part of our lives, works in the field,algorithms make it possible to search differently from social media, In this age of technology, every part of computer science is not possible without algorithms.

    1. You are welcome and thank you too hon!! Yes, Algorithms are used everywhere we look. No need at all to be frightened of them as they have been used in more ways than we know and haven’t made us redundant yet. lol I suspect that they will be around long after we are gone too!!

  2. I am very happy to accept the fact that they are useful but like a car can get you from A to B I dont get too turned on by the detail as long as it works fine If not get someone else to fix it.

  3. I’ve never had a hard time accepting that algorithms will increasingly control the world. Unfortunately, I know people who are still attached to the past and have no interest in entering this new world. I always try to make them understand that evolution is the best way to achieve success.

    1. You are right, some folks are just comfortable or just too lazy to step outside their cozy little world and some are simply frightened by change. I have learned just to let them be whatever they are comfortable with as long as they aren’t stepping on my toes. Life is dynamic. Change is inevitable. We choose our own way in the end, however.

  4. For this detailed information on algorithms, I thank you, Gail. You write in a way that a person who is not educated on computer/programming, etc. can understand. Facebook for sure is one company that “blame it on the algorithms” comes up often! Step by step instructions are important, so algorithms are here to stay (until something perhaps comes to replace them).

    1. Hi Janice, you are welcome indeed. As I told Patrick, I believe everyone can understand even the most complicated terms. It is just a matter of breaking it down to a level where it can be understood. And like you said about Facebook, yes some DO seem to use Algorithms to blame their “error” on or when they don’t want to take the time to explain themselves. Pity, when the man behind the curtain has to come out and answer for his deeds….lol

  5. Thanks Gail, another informative post. Yes algorithms are everywhere, in truth they have been with us for as long as homo sapiens has been a problem solver. We are perhaps more aware of the term Algorithm now, as our lives become more driven by technology.

    1. You are very welcome Patrick. I agree Algorithms ARE everywhere in one form or another. Humans are a very ingenious group and it’s not surprising they would come up with such a way to “charge” problems with simple but effective solutions. Basically, most everything can be dissected and brought down to a level for everyone to understand. I try my best to do that because most things are really no big secret, it’s just the big words that scare some off.

  6. Great explanation Gail. I found it very interesting, early in life, (18 years old) that I earned a college degree in computer programming and not once was the word Algorithm used. Flowchart then coding to create the program that the computer used to come up with the “answer”. Had to look up the meaning of the word after the fact when I heard it being used in so many places. Thanks for a real world explanation as yes, everything instructional is one.

  7. Wow, I never realized algorithm had so simple an explantion! I always just assumed that it was something very complicated that had to do with math and equations which I had no interest in since math has never been my forte. Thank you for that understandable explanation!

  8. Thank you Gail for the reminder of algorithms being used in our everyday life. Even growing up and learning to cook by using recipes, I was unknowingly using algorithms. I did learn about algorithms in Algebra but thought it was only for mathematics. Now here we are using them in ways that I would never have imagined.

  9. Well Gail, you are a pretty awesome algorithm writer then! The algorithms you send us are easy to follow and clear. But somehow, I think the algorithms that programmers write are a bit more complex and take a lot of work to get just right. I am grateful to you for all the work that you do to keep us up to date, and equally grateful to the programmers for all the work they have done to create just the right setup for us!

  10. Thanks for the education on algorithms! I’m like Maxine, I thought algorithms were used in Algebra and math only. I see now we have algorithms all around us and I can’t see how daily life would get on without them. We are in a techno world for sure!!

  11. One, interesting take on algorithms, I don’t think they will control us in the future. We all have a choice to choose certain things in life. For example, I can read a Bible with out an algorithm involved. I just pick up and read. I agree they do play a major roll in the things we do and would never have thought of a recipe being and algorithm,

  12. You might say that our human brain uses it’s own Algorithms to decide on pretty much everything we do in our lives! The way this concept translates into technological uses (Google’s and Facebook’s infamous algorithms notwithstanding) is pretty much mind-blowing; and I can definitely see how Compumatrix’s own algorithm is forming, day by day, week by week…it’s fascinating!

  13. got a late start to my tuesday — but this is an interesting and also awesome write up on Algorithms — have learned over the last 30+ years of computers in my life that everything is pretty much an algorithm — and it is also necessary to function — I know you will but keep sharing great information and Helpful —

  14. Thank you Gail for the enlightenment on the basis of Algorithms. It just shows how in many things we do, systems we run in computers, phones and even companies like Compumatrix which run on a set of algorithms that make them work in a smooth and easy way. Algorithms may not seem simple to the normal hoi polloi but thanks to the IT geniuses in Compumatrix who make working ones business simple yet very understandable.

  15. Great simplification of Algorithms. This helped me a lot and certainly will help many others. This also show me that WE have
    the greatest computer in the world (The brain) and humans can
    accomplish anything they want to, if they have the desire.
    Compumatrix has given us all that we need to be successful. All
    we have to do is FOCUS on what we want. ” If it is to be, it’s up to ME” Thanks for sharing.

  16. Algorithm is a unique word, Gail. Since joining Compumatrix, I have gained an unexpected education. It has been a journey into a sea of digital, cryptological and Technological terms and their meanings. Having never heard the word Algorithm before, it has now become one of my favorite words. I read and hear Algorithm being used outside of technology and not as mathematical equations. Algorithms are happening within and around me, and I am delighted to know what this word means.

  17. The word “Algorithm” was a mystery to me for years because it showed up in daily conversation, over the past couple of decades, the same way that the word “App” did.
    That was probably the result of many hearing both words repeatedly in TV and radio commercials. Remember hearing, “We’ve got an app for that.”? I recall having a
    flip phone and had no idea what an app was. 😁

  18. Mmmhhh… This is pretty interesting. Well put Gail. An algorithm is “simply a map that gives directions on how to complete a task.” That alone can explain a lot about algorithms. Without algorithms put in place, tasks become cumbersome to complete if even possible to complete. Whether we know it or not, algorithms are used day to day in various exercises, i.e.; Phones, Laptops, Cars, Aircrafts and the likes. Compumatrix runs on algorithms to run the systems put in place in order to make working in and with the company easy and simple.

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