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(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Algorithms are essential to the way computers process information, because a computer program is essentially an algorithm that tells the computer what specific steps to perform (in what specific order) in order to carry out a specified task, such as calculating employees’ paychecks or printing students’ report cards. Thus, an algorithm can be considered to be any sequence of operations that can be performed by a Turing-complete system. Authors who assert this thesis include Savage (1987) and Gurevich (2000):
"...Turing's informal argument in favor of his thesis justifies a stronger thesis: every algorithm can be simulated by a Turing machine" (Gurevich 2000:1) ...according to Savage [1987], "an algorithm is a computational process defined by a Turing machine."(Gurevich 2000:3)
Typically, when an algorithm is associated with processing information, data are read from an input source or device, written to an output sink or device, and/or stored for further processing. Stored data are regarded as part of the internal state of the entity performing the algorithm. In practice, the state is stored in a data structure , but an algorithm requires the internal data only for specific operation sets called abstract data types .
For any such computational process, the algorithm must be rigorously defined: specified in the way it applies in all possible circumstances that could arise. That is, any conditional steps must be systematically dealt with, case-by-case; the criteria for each case must be clear (and computable).
Because an algorithm is a precise list of precise steps, the order of computation will almost always be critical to the functioning of the algorithm. Instructions are usually assumed to be listed explicitly, and are described as starting 'from the top' and going 'down to the bottom', an idea that is described more formally by flow of control .
Algorithms can be expressed in many kinds of notation, including natural languages , pseudocode , flowcharts , and programming languages . Natural language expressions of algorithms tend to be verbose and ambiguous, and are rarely used for complex or technical algorithms. Pseudocode and flowcharts are structured ways to express algorithms that avoid many of the ambiguities common in natural language statements, while remaining independent of a particular implementation language. Programming languages are primarily intended for expressing algorithms in a form that can be executed by a computer , but are often used as a way to define or document algorithms.
There is a wide variety of representations possible and one can express a given Turing machine program as a sequence of machine tables (see more at finite state machine and state transition table ), as flowcharts (see more at state diagram ), or as a form of rudimentary machine code or assembly code called "sets of quadruples" (see more at Turing machine ).
Sometimes it is helpful in the description of an algorithm to supplement small "flow charts" (state diagrams) with natural-language and/or arithmetic expressions written inside " block diagrams " to summarize what the "flow charts" are accomplishing.
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