21 March 2016

algorithm and algebra

Flow chart of an algorithm (Euclid's algorithm)
for calculating the greatest common divisor 

In this time steeped in computers, the engine under the surface of this website and much of the technology we use is full of mathematics and computer science. That means it uses algorithms. I just read a story today about how facebook is tweaking its algorithms for what we see in our feed. What is all this about and where did it come from?

Without getting too complicated, an algorithm is a self-contained step-by-step set of operations to be performed. Algorithms can perform calculations, process data and automate reasoning.

The concept and origin of the word goes back centuries. The words 'algorithm' and 'algorism' come from the name al-Khwārizmī. Al-Khwārizmī (Persian: خوارزمی‎‎, c. 780-850) and from Algoritmi, the Latin form of his name.

He was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, geographer, and scholar. The importance of al-Khwārizmī's contributions to mathematics can also be seen in "algebra" (derived from al-jabr, one of the two operations he used to solve quadratic equations. His name is also the origin of (Spanish) guarismo and of (Portuguese) algarismo, both meaning digit.

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