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What exactly is an algorithm and how does it work?

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The world of computing is full of buzzwords: AI, supercomputers, machine learning, the cloud, quantum computing and more. One word in particular is used throughout computing – algorithm.

In the most general sense, an algorithm is a series of instructions telling a computer how to transform a set of facts about the world into useful information. The facts are data, and the useful information is knowledge for people, instructions for machines or input for yet another algorithm. There are many common examples of algorithms, from sorting sets of numbers to finding routes through maps to displaying information on a screen.

[Read: What audience intelligence data tells us about the 2020 US presidential election]

To get a feel for the concept of algorithms, think about getting dressed in the morning. Few people give it a second thought. But how would you write down your process or tell a 5-year-old your approach? Answering these questions in a detailed way yields an algorithm.

Input

When you get dressed in the morning, what information do you need? First and foremost, you need to know what clothes are available to you in your closet. Then you might consider what the temperature is, what the weather forecast is for the day, what season it is and maybe some personal preferences.To a computer, input is the information needed to make decisions.

All of this can be represented in data, which is essentially simple collections of numbers or words. For example, temperature is a number, and a weather forecast might be “rainy” or “sunshine.”

Transformation

Next comes the heart of an algorithm – computation. Computations involve arithmetic, decision-making and repetition.

So, how does this apply to getting dressed? You make decisions by doing some math on those input quantities. Whether you put on a jacket might depend on the temperature, and which jacket you choose might depend on the forecast. To a computer, part of our getting-dressed algorithm would look like “if it is below 50 degrees and it is raining, then pick the rain jacket and a long-sleeved shirt to wear underneath it.”

After picking your clothes, you then need to put them on. This is a key part of our algorithm. To a computer a repetition can be expressed like “for each piece of clothing, put it on.”

Output

Finally, the last step of an algorithm is output – expressing the answer. To a computer, output is usually more data, just like input. It allows computers to string algorithms together in complex fashions to produce more algorithms. However, output can also involve presenting information, for example putting words on a screen, producing auditory cues or some other form of communication.

So after getting dressed you step out into the world, ready for the elements and the gazes of the people around you. Maybe you even take a selfie and put it on Instagram to strut your stuff.

Machine learning

Sometimes it’s too complicated to spell out a decision-making process. A special category of algorithms, machine learning algorithms, try to “learn” based on a set of past decision-making examples. Machine learning is commonplace for things like recommendations, predictions and looking up information.

For our getting-dressed example, a machine learning algorithm would be the equivalent of your remembering past decisions about what to wear, knowing how comfortable you feel wearing each item, and maybe which selfies got the most likes, and using that information to make better choices.

So, an algorithm is the process a computer uses to transform input data into output data. A simple concept, and yet every piece of technology that you touch involves many algorithms. Maybe the next time you grab your phone, see a Hollywood movie or check your email, you can ponder what sort of complex set of algorithms is behind the scenes.


This article is republished from The Conversation by Jory Denny, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, University of Richmond under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Published October 22, 2020 — 10:00 UTC

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Conquer Your Pup’s Dander and Fur With $700 Off a Cobalt or Charcoal Bobsweep PetHair Plus Robot Vacuum

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Best Home DealsBest Home DealsThe best home, kitchen, smart home, and automotive deals from around the web, updated daily.

Bobsweep PetHair Plus Robot Vacuum & Mop (Cobalt) | $200 | Best Buy

Bobsweep PetHair Plus Robot Vacuum & Mop (Charcoal) | $200 | Best Buy

Allergies can be bad enough as the seasons change. Don’t let pet hair and dander add to that by vacuuming it up early and often. That chore is easier said than done— unless you have a robot vacuum to do the work for you. This lovely bright cobalt Bobsweep PetHair Plus robot vacuum and mop, only $200 today at Best Buy seems like an ideal option. That’s a whopping $700 off, by the way.

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You can get the same deal for the charcoal version of the robot vac, too. This model is not only specially made for picking up pet hair, it self docks and charges when it’s finished with the work.

It also comes with a mop attachment, so it can take care of those kitchen floors for you as well. Grab it while it’s still available for this fantastic price!

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Apple will replace AirPods Pro for free with faulty noise cancellation, static or crackling

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Today, exactly one year after Apple first launched the AirPods Pro — and thus the same day the very first AirPods Pro owners will see their one-year warranties expire — Apple has launched a repair program that offers free repairs or replacements for another whole year if your AirPods Pro experience issues with noise cancellation or static.

Specifically, Apple will fix:

Crackling or static sounds that increase in loud environments, with exercise or while talking on the phone

Active Noise Cancellation not working as expected, such as a loss of bass sound, or an increase in background sounds, such as street or airplane noise

Apple says only a “small percentage of AirPods Pro” are affected by the issues, but it apparently wasn’t just an early batch — Apple says affected units were manufactured “before October 2020,” meaning every AirPods Pro ever made might be eligible. That’s quite a recall if so. Apple says it will repair faulty AirPods Pro for two years after you first buy them.

We’ve heard complaints about degraded noise cancellation before, and at least one Verge editor has replaced their AirPods Pro under warranty. It’s nice to hear that Apple isn’t just cutting buyers off as soon as that warranty expires.

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This 55″ 4K TCL Smart TV Hangs on Your Wall for $200

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Best Tech DealsBest Tech DealsThe best tech deals from around the web, updated daily.

TCL 55″ S434 4K Smart TV | $200 | Best Buy

Best Buy has an insane deal going for a brand new 55″ 4K TCL smart TV. It’s the S434, which is pretty baseline for TCL’s lineup, but at just $200, there’s little to complain about. TCL’s panels are plenty sharp and accurate, and with this set, you’ll get HDR10 compliance for enhanced color and brightness in supported games and video content. This model has Android TV onboard for all your app needs, and with an included voice remote, all your favorite content is just a shout away with the help of Google Assistant.

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