In computer science and math, an algorithm is simply a finite collection of computer-implemented instructions, usually with an application, to solve a particular problem or to do a certain computation. Algorithms play an important role in all areas of science and technology, as well as in the study of human affairs. One example is the algorithm that Google uses to index its entire web page. Algorithms can be used in any area of life that requires computations -- from searching the phonebook (algorithm) to driving a car (algorithm), the Internet (computer algorithm) and in government (law algorithm).
You may ask, "Why do they need an algorithm? Why couldn't I just get the numbers from the phone book?" The answer is in the complexity of the task. Even a seemingly simple question like, "How many people are at this restaurant?" has many variables to consider such as time, weather, and even human intervention (such as the number of servers available). An algorithm cuts through all of these variables in order to find the answer.
A very simple example of an algorithm can be found on Wikipedia: a "mathematical algorithm" is a term used to describe a type of computer programming method, whose output is a set of results that are produced by a given computer program. The output from such an algorithm could be displayed as a webpage or output line of code. An even simpler example of an algorithm is the mathematical series that the Fibonacci calculator uses. It generates the Fibonacci numbers by applying a series of rules to the input numbers. Such an algorithm could easily be written in a computer program and used for solving a variety of problems involving numbers.
An algorithm functions using specific rules. These rules specify how to collect and sort data, how to evaluate the resulting data, and how to communicate the results back to the original computer program. For example, if one were looking for the greatest common divisor of two numbers, the data required would be the factors (i.e. the numbers themselves) plus one. To find the greatest common divisor of two numbers, the algorithm will need to apply a particular algorithm to each number individually to determine whether it is prime.
Algorithms are used all over the Internet. The search engines use algorithms in ranking websites. E-mail marketers use an algorithm function to generate the subject lines and content of their messages. And Internet marketers use algorithms to determine which ads are more likely to attract customers and to create different ad copies based on past customer behavior.
An algorithm can be a single line of code. Or, it can be a complex series of lines of code, each performing a specific task. A single computer program may use an algorithm to analyze a set of input numbers into a solution. Or, it may use an algorithm to simulate an entire process (multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction) using just a few input values. One type of algorithm, however, creates a series of output values, which can be analyzed by another computer program in order to produce an exact result.
One of the most widely used algorithm functions is known as the logistic regression algorithm. It can be defined as the classification of a number into one of several possible categories. The algorithm can be used to predict the behavior of the aggregate number based on the previous behaviors of a set of variables. For instance, if the number has been used in the recent past for some sort of predicted sales, then the algorithm function can be used to predict how much the item will sell on a given day. However, if this same number is used over a longer period of time, then the algorithm can be used to give a general idea of the expected behavior of the item.
Algorithms are very complicated programs that take a lot of data, organize it into a meaningful form, and then perform some sort of analysis on that data. The reason why these functions are so useful lies in the fact that they take an extremely large amount of computer memory and processing power in order to function. As a result, these types of functions should not be run by a user who does not have the knowledge and experience to execute them accurately and efficiently.
This is the reason why most software programs that use algorithm functions require the user to have an advanced level of programming experience and knowledge in order to properly operate them.
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