We tell you what algorithms are, their types and characteristics. In addition, we explain examples of algorithms used in everyday life.

## What is an algorithm?

In mathematics, logic and computer science, an algorithm **is a systematic set of ordered instructions that, in a finite number of sequential steps, provides the answer to a question**, the resolution of a computation or the solution of a problem. Algorithms are commonly used to systematize instructions and problem-solving processes, such as in a user manual or in computer logical systems.

The name “algorithm” comes from the medieval Latin translation of the nickname of the Arab wise man Mohammed ben Musa (780-840), better known as *al-Khwarizmi*name of the state where he was born (in the current republic of Uzbekistan), and was initially pronounced in Spanish as “*loot*“, something that later changed when the word was assimilated into Greek *arithmos* (“number”), thus giving rise to the current term.

Every algorithm has a starting point and an end point, and between them extends the set of instructions, often represented as a flowchart, a programming language or a mathematical model. Some are very old, like the algorithm published in the *Items* by Euclid (c. 300 BC), which contains the steps to find the greatest common divisor between two natural numbers, while others are very recent and are used for various automated computer procedures.

It may help you: Algorithm in computing

## Types of algorithms

Algorithms are classified according to their function, into two fundamental categories:

**Sorting algorithms**. They are those that (re)organize a set of given elements in a list or vector, according to a specific order criterion or relationship (such as numerical or lexicographic, for example). These types of algorithms are essential to undertake search algorithms, since they require an ordered list for faster execution.**Search algorithms**. They are those that allow you to locate an element with certain properties or features within a set or a data structure, or a number in a vector. This type of algorithms can be, in turn, of two types: uninformed or blind (when the elements are evaluated without judging whether one is more or less convenient than the previous one) or informed (when they have a criterion from which to evaluate the elements sought: heuristic, probabilistic).

## Characteristics of an algorithm

In general, algorithms are characterized by the following:

**They contain an organized, finite and objective set of instructions**that lead from the starting point to the arrival point, and perform a specific logical operation along the way.**They have a starting point (entry) and an end point (exit), linked by a series of steps (process).**. The input contains the information necessary to start the process, and the output is the result of the operations carried out by the algorithm.**They are exact and defined tools**which give the same result whenever they are used in the same way, and in whose procedure all the possibilities of the problem are analyzed.**can be represented**through natural language, pseudo computer code, programming language or a flow chart.

## Examples of algorithms

Some examples of algorithms are:

**The steps to follow a cooking recipe**. Although it has nothing to do with computing, this is the most traditional example of an algorithm that exists: a series of sequential steps that must be undertaken programmatically to produce the appropriate dish, taking into account different factors (the temperature of the oven, the sifting of flour, cooking time of vegetables, etc.).**Social media recommendation algorithms**. The algorithms that control the content displayed on social networks use as input the information voluntarily provided by the user to the system (basic data, “likes”, interactions) to choose from the content available on the social network what they might like or capture their attention, and they discard what is least likely to interest them.**Google search algorithms**. The best known of these algorithms, called Pagerank, chooses which web pages to display based on the input that has been provided in the form of a keyword or set of words, applying different criteria of relevance, visibility and trustworthiness to filter out problematic content and Provide the user with a search that is as close as possible to their desire.**The algorithm that regulates the traffic light**. This everyday algorithm manages light change times to guarantee smoother traffic without crashes, taking as reference the light changes of nearby traffic lights.**Public transport route algorithms**. Used in the coordination of the different bus routes in the same city, these types of algorithms are used to find more efficient ways to assign the public transport route, which requires enormous calculations and the management of multiple simultaneous data systems.

## Importance of algorithms

Algorithms are extremely important tools in today’s hypercomputerized world. Thanks to them you can reach a certain level of **efficiency in automating different tasks, especially in handling large volumes of data**as happens today with the call *big data* and advertising on social networks.

Currently, algorithms choose, for example, the movies and series that we might like on our television service. *streaming*and organize the *feed* of our social networks to show content that we might like. It is also an essential element in the field of artificial intelligence.

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#### References

- “Algorithm” on Wikipedia.
- “What do we mean by algorithm?” at Business University (Uruguay).
- “Etymology of Algorithm” in the Online Spanish Etymological Dictionary.
- “Algorithm (mathematics)” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.