Word of the Day


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a set of rules for solving problems or doing calculations, especially rules that a computer uses

Origin and usage

Algorithm came into English, by a somewhat tortuous route, in the late 17th century. It derives ultimately from the name of a 9th century mathematician Abū Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Mūsa, known as al-Kwārizmī after the name of the town he came from, Khorezm (now Khiva in Uzbekistan). This means that algorithm is an eponym, a word based on the name of a person or other proper noun.


Few of us can even begin to understand the algorithms that lie behind many aspects of our daily lives. So how can we tell if they are operating fairly or not? After all, algorithms are created by humans and humans have biases, both conscious and unconscious. Yet businesses are understandably protective of their algorithms and reluctant to open them to scrutiny. One possible solution is to have external auditors, experts who will check a business’s algorithms for bias, to ensure that they are fair and do not discriminate against certain groups. We hear all the time about jobs that will disappear as a result of technological change; algorithm auditor is potentially one of a new class of jobs that will be created.


Algorithms are not arbiters of objective truth and fairness simply because they’re math.”
(Zoe Quinn)

“The most powerful thing in your world now is an algorithm about which you know nothing.”
(Kelly McBride)

Related words

programming, protocol, software

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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