“The Algorithm” is impenetrable. It’s mysterious, it’s all-knowing, it’s omnipotent. Except that it’s not.
An algorithm is a simple concept that, today, has many complex manifestations. Algorithms’ central and opaque position at the heart of social networks like Facebook cause some to view algorithms in general with a sort of mystical reverence. Algorithms have become synonymous with something highly technical and difficult to understand, that is either an arbiter of objective truth, or, on the other end of the spectrum, something wholly untrustworthy.
But when people refer to “the algorithm” — whether Facebook's or another tech company’s recommendation algorithm, or just “algorithms” in general — do they really know what it means? Judging by how widely the term is used and misused, most likely not. As Mashable embarks on our exploration of algorithms, we wanted to get something straight right off the bat: What is an algorithm, anyway?
Mashable spoke with Pedro Domingos, a computer science professor at the University of Washington who has also written a book about the ever-growing role algorithms play in our lives. Before you go being alternatively impressed by or distrusting of the next computer algorithm you encounter, get back to basics on the concept that’s powering our world.
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