What’s the Deal With Algorithms?

iStock Can I level with you? I’m not always sure I know what people are talking about when they say algorithm? You’re not alone: Honestly, I haven’t always been sure what I meant when I said it either. But here’s the absolute simplest definition: An algorithm is a set of guidelines that describe how to perform a task. (Click here for a cheat sheet.) Advertisement Come on. That’s it? Yup. As UCLA’s John Villasenor has pointed out, this means that even something as innocuous as a recipe or a list of directions to a friend’s house can be understood as an algorithm. Things are a bit more complicated in the computer science context where the term most often comes up, but only ever so slightly. In his book The Master…


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