What are algorithms?

Algorithms are the building blocks of artificial intelligence, so basic understanding of algorithms is essential to fully grasp how AI will influence our future.

The term algorithm is used easily, but not always fully understood. It is a running joke among developers that they just drop the word algorithm when they don’t want to explain what they’ve done.

Major technology companies hide behind their algorithms to avoid accountability for harm done by these algorithms. So, what is an algorithm?

Writing its own code…

ALGORITHMs explained

In the basis, algorithms are actually quite straight-forward. They are simply a series of instructions to be followed, step by step, to achieve a goal or solve a problem.

An algorithm can be understood by comparing it to a cooking recipe. To prepare a dish, you’d read the instructions and steps, and execute them one by one, in the given sequence. The result thus obtained is the dish, for instance a cake, baked perfectly.

However, the technology is developing fast, and the more complex forms of AI are multi-dimensional in nature.


Algorithms need to be ‘trained’ by data, lots of data. The more data, the better the quality of the outcome. Big data collection is therefore essential to develop AI capability. This is partly why data are worth so much and why the tech titans collecting them (such as Amazon, Facebook and Apple) are now the most valuable companies in the world.

Countries with few privacy protections have advantages in the field of AI. They have more – unvoluntary – training datasets to work with.


In the algorithm economy, it will not be about buying and selling complete apps, but about the building blocks that make them: proprietary algorithms.

Elon Musk is a very vocal proponent of strict and pre-active regulation of AI.