Why algorithms are called algorithms | BBC Ideas

Why algorithms are called algorithms | BBC Ideas


We think of an algorithm
as something new, but the term actually dates
back about 900 years. The word algorithm
comes from the name of a Persian mathematical genius,
Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. He was born around 780 AD in the
region now known as Uzbekistan. His name suggests he came
from Khwarizm. Known as al-Khwarizmi, he was
director in the House of Wisdom, an intellectual centre for scholars
in 9th Century Baghdad. He made innovative contributions
to mathematics, astronomy, geography and cartography, and wrote an influential book called Concerning the Hindu
Art of Reckoning. 300 years later,
the book was rediscovered and translated into Latin. It introduced Hindu-Arabic
numerals to the West, which eventually replaced
the unwieldy Roman ones. The Hindu-Arabic number system,
along with the decimal point, both described by al-Khwarizmi in his
book, are the basis of the numbers we use throughout the world today. Al-Khwarizmi’s name, when
Latinised in the title of the book, became algoritmi. And this is the origin
of the word algorithm. We also have al-Khwarizmi
to thank for the word algebra, which comes from another
of his works. His books revolutionised
mathematics in the West, showing how complex problems could be broken down
into simpler parts and solved. In medieval Latin, algorismus simply
meant the decimal number system. By the 13th Century, it had become
an English word and was used, for example, by Chaucer. But it wasn’t until
the late 19th Century that algorithm came to mean
a set of step-by-step rules for solving a problem. In the early part of the
20th Century, Alan Turing, the British mathematician and
computer scientist, worked out how, in theory, a machine could
follow algorithmic instructions and solve complex mathematics. This was the birth
of the computer age. During World War Two, he built
a machine called the Bombe, which used algorithms
to crack the Enigma code. Today algorithm is a fairly
common term, even if sometimes you’re not
exactly sure what an algorithm does. Algorithms are everywhere now,
helping us to get from A to B, driving internet searches,
making recommendations of things for us to buy, watch or share. And predicting how we vote
or who we fall in love with. This little word that
originated in medieval Persia is gradually transforming our lives. Thanks for watching! 🙂 Don’t forget to subscribe and click the bell to receive notifications for new videos. See you again soon!

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