What exactly is a mathematical algorithm? Well, simply put, an algorithm is the process of steps or calculations that must be done to find a solution to a problem or situation. That probably doesn’t sound too exciting. But guess what? Math is Everywhere and so are algorithms! Now here are 5 super awesome algorithms that you probably use every day!
You know when you’re listening to your favorite artist on Spotify then suddenly, the next song is by a WHOLE NEW artist that you never knew of until now and you’re thinking: “Why have I never heard of these guys before?!” Well, you can thank the awesome geniuses behind your music streaming app for introducing you to a totally awesome new band!
These specific algorithms work by keeping tabs on all songs, artists, albums and genres that you listen to on the app. It then filters through the app’s MASSIVE music library to find you similar music that you might have never heard before! That’s it put very simply! But in reality, it gets a WHOLE LOT mathier than that. Music streaming apps will compare the music you listen to with music other users listen to (tens of MILLIONS of other users). It looks at the similarities in the music you listen to decide what to play next for you! This specific type of algorithm is called Collaborative Filtering! We can thank this super awesome algorithm for keeping the tunes playin’ all day long!
You’re planning to do research for an assignment that you TOTALLY didn’t wait until last minute to get started on and you need to find a load of information. Where are you gonna look? The library? Yeah, right… You’re probably going to head straight for a search engine like Google to help you out with your research. Well, Google happens to be one of the top companies for algorithms and machine learning in the whole entire world!
You’ve probably wondered how a search engine actually finds all of the websites that it shows you (or maybe you haven’t since you just wanted to get that assignment done). What these sites do in fraction of a second is nothing less than totally amazing! Search engines work by indexing websites on the internet (think of it like putting Post-It notes in your textbook) with automated bots called crawlers. These crawlers will look at EVERY.SINGLE.WEBSITE. on the internet that they can and remember the keywords on each website and what the website is all about. The algorithm is called an On-Line Page Importance Computation and it helps decide just how relevant that page will be for you when you search. That way when you need to look something up, it can find it for you INCREDIBLY fast!
We’ve all been here before. You’re standing at the light waiting to cross and for some reason the light seems like it’s playing some kind of twisted game with you by making you wait what seems like forever. As much as it might totally suck and drive you absolutely crazy, traffic lights are often designed using super complex algorithms to tell them when to change!
So, while some of these lights are actually REALLY really basic and only run off a simple timer (boring), the ones at ridiculously busy intersections tend to be running on various algorithms. To help a traffic light decide when it’s time to change, there are several variables that may come into play like: traffic flow based on the time of day; business of the directions at the intersections and the many cues and indicators given to the lights from a bunch of sensors, telling it to change. Traffic lights are WAAAAY busier than they look! All of this tells traffic lights when it’s time to change to help traffic flow as smooth as butter – and might leave you waiting on the other side of the street a little longer!
You’re scrolling through your feed looking memes to send to your friends so that they can groan and roll their eyes at you for laughing so hard at it. But you might have noticed, NOTHING seems to show up in any kind of chronological order at all! What gives? Well, you’ve read this far into the blog, so you can probably guess that it’s thanks to yet another one of those awesome algorithms we know and love.
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media sites out there all work with their very own algorithms! These algorithms tell the app which posts to put in your feed first and even which annoying ads should be sent your way too. But how exactly do they work? These sites look at the kind of posts you make, like, share and even comment on. Then, with that information, they perform calculations in split seconds to decide “this is the meme you should see first!” Not only do these apps scan through the content you look at in them, they can also pick up on some of your interests OUTSIDE of the app… Kinda creepy right?!
You’re probably reading this and thinking “what are they even saying?” Well, get this: algorithms don’t have to be done by computers or even software. Mind blown! Every time you decide to do ANYTHING that involves a decision being made, you’re performing an algorithm.
Let’s take making a sandwich for lunch as an example. You’ve got your bread, your proteins and your vegetables on there. But how do you decide how much mayonnaise you’re going to put on there? You take a look at how much of everything else you’ve got on your sandwich and you decide how much mayonnaise you’re going to put on based on your tastes. You just performed an algorithm right there, give yourself a hand! It goes to show you that math really is everywhere!