Roger Hanson: The algorithm of life is a powerful beat


Algorithms are increasingly involved in most aspects of modern life

The period between the 8th and 13th centuries is referred to as the Islamic Golden Age, a time when the Middle East dominated mathematics and science.

The importance attached to learning and knowledge was demonstrated by Caliph al-Ma’mun in Baghdad. He turned his father’s library, the House of Wisdom, into a centre of learning where scholars from all parts of the region and beyond were encouraged to share ideas.

The Persian mathematician, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (c.780-850) was a scholar in the House of Wisdom from about 813-833. He made fundamental contributions to mathematics as well as introducing the West to the pioneering work of Hindu mathematicians.

In 820 al-Khwarizmi wrote the first book to show how a class of mathematical equations, called quadratic equations, could be solved.

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One of the operations he used to solve these equations he called “al-jabr”, meaning “reunion of broken parts”, from which we have the word algebra.

This is not the only word we have al-Khwarizmi to thank for. The Latinised form of al-Khwarizmi’s name is Algoritmi, from which is derived, perhaps the most used mathematical word today, “algorithm”.

An algorithm is a…

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