Computer, Computation, and Algorithms

Learn about the basics of computation and the story behind algorithms.

Computers are indispensable in modern life. They are everywhere, from laptops to smartphones, revolutionizing our mode of communication with the modern world.

Even the air conditioner that we operate, using a wireless remote, contains a computer that processes the information sent via remote and performs the desired task. When maintaining record transactions for the bank, diagnosing cancer, identifying the fungal leaves in any crop, communicating with others, driving a vehicle autonomously, or in any other field, we are using computers.

The step-by-step procedure to solve any problem while taking an input, processing it following a certain set of instructions usually referred to as computation, and delivering the desired result is called an algorithm.

For an analogy, you may consider an algorithm as nothing but a recipe for creating a dish, and each step of the recipe will be considered a computation.

The word algorithm comes from the name of a Persian mathematician, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, who was a director of the house of wisdom in 9th9^{th} Century, Baghdad. He made innovative contributions to mathematics and wrote an influential book that became the basis for modern mathematics.

Alan Turing, a British mathematician and computer scientist, devised a theoretical framework for machines that could solve complex mathematics. The Bombe was the machine he built to crack the Enigma codethe codes used by the German military to encode messages during the second world war.

In computer science, algorithms are sets of instructions for solving problems. Our brain uses algorithms as well. For example, when we count the number of people in a room, we might point at each person and count up from zero—that’s an algorithm! Algorithms help us navigate a map, play games, communicate with each other, and so on.

Click “Play” to see the step-by-step methodology behind Insertion Sort, an algorithm we use to sort a deck of playing cards.

Sorting animation