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  • 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! :)

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We think of an algorithm as something new,

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Why algorithms are called algorithms | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2020/04/23
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