Understanding the importance of unimportant algorithms

Jason G., Reporter

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Algorithms have been an integral part of our lives since the first set of instructions were created. They have aided us in cracking the enigma machine, to sending the first man to the moon. Though algorithms are typically associated with those great accomplishments, there are a number of small algorithms that we take for granted in our day to day lives. These algorithms are beginning to be known as unimportant algorithmic notations.

In order to understand what unimportant algorithms are, there needs to be a general understanding of what an algorithm is. In its most basic form, an algorithm is a set of instructions created to complete a specific task; with this task varying from an endless number of things, they are what build some of our most basic logic. With that definition, there are a number of algorithms that are used in some of the simplest tasks. Making cereal, baking a cake, or even washing your car, these are all examples of unimportant algorithms that shape our lives.

Why are they unimportant? They’re not necessarily unimportant from the perspective of accomplishing tasks, but they’re unimportant to our minds. If we take for example a computer. There are a number of steps that have to be followed in order to even get close to what our minds are capable of doing. Adding and subtracting is a good example of what seems to be the use of unimportant algorithms. For a human, adding 2+2 is simple. There isn’t even a real process required to compute an answer. However, for a computer to complete the same task there are a number of steps it would need to have to even step close to that completed task.

Continuing with the 2+2 example, our brains are easily capable of understanding that there are two numbers that need to be added. First it stores the two numbers, then it locates the appropriate algorithm needed to add the two, then it stores the answer for further output if needed. Although our minds aren’t easily defined under that aspect, this is an example of how complex unimportant algorithms can really get.

From the example provided above, imagine having to think about every action you’ve ever done. From breathing to eating, having to remember each step and accurately perform that task every time is almost incomprehensible. In fact, an individual would need to spend each waking hour focused on basic tasks rather than focused on actually living life.

While these algorithms may go unnoticed, the moral of the story is that these seemingly unimportant algorithms are not actually unimportant. They are the building blocks to some of the most complicated tasks man can think of and without them, life as we know it would not be the same. So the next time you pour that bowl of cereal or turn that light switch on, think about what you did. You might learn something.

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Understanding the importance of unimportant algorithms