What is the computer science term for a set of processes or rules to be followed in calculations or operations?

And the answer: Algorithm.  
Photo credit: public domain.

Although you may be most familiar with the term in context of social media feeds, algorithms have existed for centuries. The “father of the algorithm,” Muhammad ibn Mūsā al’Khwārizmī, was a ninth-century Persian mathematician. His Latinized name was Algoritmi, and the term came to mean “the decimal number system.”

From search engines to dating apps, algorithms are everywhere in modern day life. Although the idea is nothing new—and indeed has been around for centuries—few understand how the system is able to gather information and return informed results. Most simply explained, an algorithm is a set of instructions—like a recipe, for example—that tells you the steps which need to be taken in order to receive a product. In computers, algorithms create a set of instructions that enable a computer program to put together different sources of information and generate a result.  

The word algorithm may be used more frequently in computer science, but most students first use algorithms in mathematics. Students learn to understand the subject by solving for an unknown factor and subtracting the known from the sum. This is the algorithm—and one that students quickly learn to apply to new problems and implement in different ways.

Did you know?

This week is Computer Science Education Week! The Week was founded in 2009 as a call to action to raise awareness about the need to elevate computer science education at all levels, and to underscore the critical role of computing in careers. The field of computer science has come a long way since its very first 27-ton prototype, and continues to revolutionize education efforts around the world. Learn more about Computer Science Education Week here.


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