Technology & AI

Explainer: What Is an Algorithm?

Algorithms aren’t just for coders and computers. Watch to learn why.

March 22, 2023

| by Kelsey Doyle

Algorithms are everywhere. This video explains the simple concept behind them — and how they help us complete complicated tasks.

Full Transcript

When you bake a cake or when you tie your shoes, did you know you are using an algorithm? Algorithms aren’t just complex sets of instructions for computers. Anytime you follow a replicable step-by-step process to accomplish a task, those steps are an algorithm. My bedtime routine is a pretty simple algorithm. I take a shower, put on pajamas, brush my teeth, and get into bed. It works every time, but what happens if I’m out of toothpaste? Now my brain needs a different set of instructions. Should I run to the drugstore? What if they’re out of my regular brand of toothpaste? Those sorts of decisions create new and different parts for me to complete my task.

This is how algorithms get more complicated. When we program computers, we are giving them instructions for all the possible paths they might need to take stemming from all the possible series of events that might occur in a particular process. Stock trading, encryption, traffic modeling and social media are just some of the applications that use or require complex algorithms, and machine learning algorithms can perform new and unexpected calculations and predictions. The main thing to remember is that algorithms aren’t just for computers and programmers. They’re how we all get things done every day of our lives.


In this ongoing video series, we define and break down key concepts in under two minutes.

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