Algorithms are the backbone behind technology that have helped establish some of the world’s most famous companies. Software giants like Google, beverage giants Coca Cola and many other organizations utilize proprietary algorithms to improve their services and enhance customer experience. Algorithms are an inseparable part of the technology behind organization as they help improve security, product or service recommendations, and increase sales.
Knowing the benefits of algorithms is useful, but you might also be interested to know what makes them so advantageous. As such, you’re probably asking: “What is an algorithm?” Here’s the most common algorithm definition: an algorithm is a set of procedures and rules a computer follows to solve a problem.
In addition to the meaning of the word “algorithm,” this article will also cover the key types and characteristics of algorithms, as well as their applications.
Types of Algorithms and Design Techniques
One of the main reasons people rely on algorithms is that they offer a principled and structured means to represent a problem on a computer.
Recursive algorithms are critical for solving many problems. The core idea behind recursive algorithms is to use functions that call themselves on smaller chunks of the problem.
Divide and Conquer Algorithms
Divide and conquer algorithms are similar to recursive algorithms. They divide a large problem into smaller units. Algorithms solve each smaller component before combining them to tackle the original, large problem.
A greedy algorithm looks for solutions based on benefits. More specifically, it resolves problems in sections by determining how many benefits it can extract by analyzing a certain section. The more benefits it has, the more likely it is to solve a problem, hence the term greedy.
Dynamic Programming Algorithms
Dynamic programming algorithms follow a similar approach to recursive and divide and conquer algorithms. First, they break down a complex problem into smaller pieces. Next, it solves each smaller piece once and saves the solution for later use instead of computing it.
After dividing a problem, an algorithm may have trouble moving forward to find a solution. If that’s the case, a backtracking algorithm can return to parts of the problem it has already solved until it determines a way forward that can overcome the setback.
Brute Force Algorithms
Brute force algorithms try every possible solution until they determine the best one. Brute force algorithms are simpler, but the solution they find might not be as good or elegant as those found by the other types of algorithms.
Algorithm Analysis and Optimization
Digital transformation remains one of the biggest challenges for businesses in 2023. Algorithms can facilitate the transition through careful analysis and optimization.
The time complexity of an algorithm refers to how long you need to execute a certain algorithm. A number of factors determine time complexity, but the algorithm’s input length is the most important consideration.
Before you can run an algorithm, you need to make sure your device has enough memory. The amount of memory required for executing an algorithm is known as space complexity.
Solving a problem with an algorithm in C or any other programming language is about making compromises. In other words, the system often makes trade-offs between the time and space available.
For example, an algorithm can use less space, but this extends the time it takes to solve a problem. Alternatively, it can take up a lot of space to address an issue faster.
Algorithms generally work great out of the box, but they sometimes fail to deliver the desired results. In these cases, you can implement a slew of optimization techniques to make them more effective.
You generally use memorization if you wish to elevate the efficacy of a recursive algorithm. The technique rewrites algorithms and stores them in arrays. The main reason memorization is so powerful is that it eliminates the need to calculate results multiple times.
As the name suggests, parallelization is the ability of algorithms to perform operations simultaneously. This accelerates task completion and is normally utilized when you have a lot of memory on your device.
Heuristic algorithms (a.k.a. heuristics) are algorithms used to speed up problem-solving. They generally target non-deterministic polynomial-time (NP) problems.
Another way to solve a problem if you’re short on time is to incorporate an approximation algorithm. Rather than provide a 100% optimal solution and risk taking longer, you use this algorithm to get approximate solutions. From there, you can calculate how far away they are from the optimal solution.
Algorithms sometimes analyze unnecessary data, slowing down your task completion. A great way to expedite the process is to utilize pruning. This compression method removes unwanted information by shrinking algorithm decision trees.
Algorithm Applications and Challenges
Thanks to this introduction to algorithm, you’ll no longer wonder: “What is an algorithm, and what are the different types?” Now it’s time to go through the most significant applications and challenges of algorithms.
Sorting algorithms arrange elements in a series to help solve complex issues faster. There are different types of sorting, including linear, insertion, and bubble sorting. They’re generally used for exploring databases and virtual search spaces.
An algorithm in C or other programming languages can be used as a searching algorithm. They allow you to identify a small item in a large group of related elements.
Graph algorithms are just as practical, if not more practical, than other types. Graphs consist of nodes and edges, where each edge connects two nodes.
There are numerous real-life applications of graph algorithms. For instance, you might have wondered how engineers solve problems regarding wireless networks or city traffic. The answer lies in using graph algorithms.
The same goes for social media sites, such as Facebook. Algorithms on such platforms contain nodes, which represent key information, like names and genders and edges that represent the relationships or dependencies between them.
When creating an account on some websites, the platform can generate a random password for you. It’s usually stronger than custom-made codes, thanks to cryptography algorithms. They can scramble digital text and turn it into an unreadable string. Many organizations use this method to protect their data and prevent unauthorized access.
Machine Learning Algorithms
Over 70% of enterprises prioritize machine learning applications. To implement their ideas, they rely on machine learning algorithms. They’re particularly useful for financial institutions because they can predict future trends.
Famous Algorithm Challenges
Many organizations struggle to adopt algorithms, be it an algorithm in data structure or computer science. The reason being, algorithms present several challenges:
- Opacity – You can’t take a closer look at the inside of an algorithm. Only the end result is visible, which is why it’s difficult to understand an algorithm.
- Heterogeneity – Most algorithms are heterogeneous, behaving differently from one another. This makes them even more complex.
- Dependency – Each algorithm comes with the abovementioned time and space restrictions.
Algorithm Ethics, Fairness, and Social Impact
When discussing critical characteristics of algorithms, it’s important to highlight the main concerns surrounding this technology.
Bias in Algorithms
Algorithms aren’t intrinsically biased unless the developer injects their personal biases into the design. If so, getting impartial results from an algorithm is highly unlikely.
Transparency and Explainability
Knowing only the consequences of algorithms prevents us from explaining them in detail. A transparent algorithm enables a user to view and understand its different operations. In contrast, explainability of an algorithm relates to its ability to provide reasons for the decisions it makes.
Privacy and Security
Some algorithms require end users to share private information. If cyber criminals hack the system, they can easily steal the data.
Algorithm Accessibility and Inclusivity
Limited explainability hinders access to algorithms. Likewise, it’s hard to include different viewpoints and characteristics in an algorithm, especially if it is biased.
Algorithm Trust and Confidence
No algorithm is omnipotent. Claiming otherwise makes it untrustworthy – the best way to prevent this is for the algorithm to state its limitations.
Algorithm Social Impact
Algorithms impact almost every area of life including politics, economic and healthcare decisions, marketing, transportation, social media and Internet, and society and culture in general.
Algorithm Sustainability and Environmental Impact
Contrary to popular belief, algorithms aren’t very sustainable. The extraction of materials to make computers that power algorithms is a major polluter.
Future of Algorithms
Algorithms are already advanced, but what does the future hold for this technology? Here are a few potential applications and types of future algorithms:
- Quantum Algorithms – Quantum algorithms are expected to run on quantum computers to achieve unprecedented speeds and efficiency.
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – AI and machine learning algorithms can help a computer develop human-like cognitive qualities via learning from its environment and experiences.
- Algorithmic Fairness and Ethics – Considering the aforementioned challenges of algorithms, developers are expected to improve the technology. It may become more ethical with fewer privacy violations and accessibility issues.
Smart, Ethical Implementation Is the Difference-Maker
Understanding algorithms is crucial if you want to implement them correctly and ethically. They’re powerful, but can also have unpleasant consequences if you’re not careful during the development stage. Responsible use is paramount because it can improve many areas, including healthcare, economics, social media, and communication.
If you wish to learn more about algorithms, accredited courses might be your best option. AI and machine learning-based modules cover some of the most widely-used algorithms to help expand your knowledge about this topic.
Soon, we will be launching four new Degrees for AY24-25 at OPIT – Open Institute of Technology
I want to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Product Definition process that has shaped these upcoming programs.
🚀 Phase 1: Discovery (Late May – End of July)
Our journey began with intensive brainstorming sessions with OPIT’s Academic Board (Francesco Profumo, Lorenzo Livi, Alexiei Dingli, Andrea Pescino, Rosario Maccarrone) . We also conducted 50+ interviews with tech and digital entrepreneurs (both from startups and established firms), academics and students. Finally, we deep-dived into the “Future of Jobs 2023” report by the World Economic Forum and other valuable research.
🔍 Phase 2: Selection – Crafting Our Roadmap (July – August)
Our focus? Introducing new degrees addressing critical workforce shortages and upskilling/reskilling needs for the next 5-10 years, promising significant societal impact and a broad market reach.
Our decision? To channel our energies on full BScs and MScs, and steer away from shorter courses or corporate-focused offerings. This aligns perfectly with our core mission.
💡 Focus Areas Unveiled!
We’re thrilled to concentrate on pivotal fields like:
- Advanced AI
- Digital Business
- Metaverse & Gaming
- Cloud Computing (less “glamorous”, but market demand is undeniable).
🎓 Phase 3: Definition – Shaping the Degrees (August – November)
With an expert in each of the above fields, and with the strong collaboration of our Academic Director, Prof. Lorenzo Livi , we embarked on a rigorous “drill-down process”. Our goal? To meld modern theoretical knowledge with cutting-edge competencies and skills. This phase included interviewing over 60+ top academics, industry professionals, and students and get valuable, program-specific, insights from our Marketing department.
🌟 Phase 4: Accreditation and Launch – The Final Stretch
We’re currently in the accreditation process, gearing up for the launch. The focus is now shifting towards marketing, working closely with Greta Maiocchi and her Marketing and Admissions team. Together, we’re translating our new academic offering into a compelling value proposition for the market.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Far from being a temporary educational measure that came into its own during the pandemic, online education is providing students from all over the world with new ways to learn. That’s proven by statistics from Oxford Learning College, which point out that over 100 million students are now enrolled in some form of online course.
The demand for these types of courses clearly exists.
In fact, the same organization indicates that educational facilities that introduce online learning see a 42% increase in income – on average – suggesting that the demand is there.
Enter the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT).
Delivering three online courses – a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and two Master’s degrees – with more to come, OPIT is positioning itself as a leader in the online education space. But why is that? After all, many institutions are making the jump to e-learning, so what separates OPIT from the pack?
Here, you’ll discover the answers as you delve into the five reasons why you should trust OPIT for your online education.
Reason 1 – A Practical Approach
OPIT focuses on computer science education – a field in which theory often dominates the educational landscape. The organization’s Rector, Professor Francesco Profumo, makes this clear in a press release from June 2023. He points to a misalignment between what educators are teaching computer science students and what the labor market actually needs from those students as a key problem.
“The starting point is the awareness of the misalignment,” he says when talking about how OPIT structures its online courses. “That so-called mismatch is generated by too much theory and too little practical approach.” In other words, students in many classes spend far too much time learning the “hows” and “whys” behind computerized systems without actually getting their hands dirty with real work that gives them practical experience in using those systems.
OPIT takes a different approach.
It has developed a didactic approach that focuses far more on the practical element than other courses. That approach is delivered through a combination of classroom sessions – such as live lessons and masterclasses – and practical work offered through quizzes and exercises that mimic real-world situations.
An OPIT student doesn’t simply learn how computers work. They put their skills into practice through direct programming and application, equipping them with skills that are extremely attractive to major employers in the tech field and beyond.
Reason 2 – Flexibility Combined With Support
Flexibility in how you study is one of the main benefits of any online course.
You control when you learn and how you do it, creating an environment that’s beneficial to your education rather than being forced into a classroom setting with which you may not feel comfortable. This is hardly new ground. Any online educational platform can claim that it offers “flexibility” simply because it provides courses via the web.
Where OPIT differs is that it combines that flexibility with unparalleled support bolstered by the experiences of teachers employed from all over the world. The founder and director of OPIT, Riccardo Ocleppo, sheds more light on this difference in approach when he says, “We believe that education, even if it takes place physically at a distance, must guarantee closeness on all other aspects.” That closeness starts with the support offered to students throughout their entire study period.
Tutors are accessible to students at all times. Plus, every participant benefits from weekly professor interactions, ensuring they aren’t left feeling stuck on an educational “island” and have to rely solely on themselves for their education. OPIT further counters the potential isolation that comes with online learning with a Student Support team to guide students through any difficulties they may have with their courses.
In this focus on support, OPIT showcases one of its main differences from other online platforms.
You don’t simply receive course material before being told to “get on with it.” You have the flexibility to learn at your own pace while also having a support structure that serves as a foundation for that learning.
Reason 3 – OPIT Can Adapt to Change Quickly
The field of computer science is constantly evolving.
In the 2020s alone, we’ve seen the rise of generative AI – spurred on by the explosive success of services like ChatGPT – and how those new technologies have changed the way that people use computers.
Riccardo Ocleppo has seen the impact that these constant evolutions have had on students. Before founding OPIT, he was an entrepreneur who received first-hand experience of the fact that many traditional educational institutions struggle to adapt to change.
“Traditional educational institutions are very slow to adapt to this wave of new technologies and trends within the educational sector,” he says. He points to computer science as a particular issue, highlighting the example of a board in Italy of which he is a member. That board – packed with some of the country’s most prestigious tech universities – spent three years eventually deciding to add just two modules on new and emerging technologies to their study programs.
That left Ocleppo feeling frustrated.
When he founded OPIT, he did so intending to make it an adaptable institution in which courses were informed by what the industry needs. Every member of its faculty is not only a superb teacher but also somebody with experience working in industry. Speaking of industry, OPIT collaborates with major companies in the tech field to ensure its courses deliver the skills that those organizations expect from new candidates.
This confronts frustration on both sides. For companies, an OPIT graduate is one for which they don’t need to bridge a “skill gap” between what they’ve learned and what the company needs. For you, as a student, it means that you’re developing skills that make you a more desirable prospect once you have your degree.
Reason 4 – OPIT Delivers Tier One Education
Despite their popularity, online courses can still carry a stigma of not being “legitimate” in the face of more traditional degrees. Ocleppo is acutely aware of this fact, which is why he’s quick to point out that OPIT always aims to deliver a Tier One education in the computer science field.
“That means putting together the best professors who create superb learning material, all brought together with a teaching methodology that leverages the advancements made in online teaching,” he says.
OPIT’s degrees are all accredited by the European Union to support this approach, ensuring they carry as much weight as any other European degree. It’s accredited by both the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and the Malta Qualification Framework (MQF), with all of its courses having full legal value throughout Europe.
It’s also here where we see OPIT’s approach to practicality come into play via its course structuring.
Take its Bachelor’s degree in computer science as an example.
Yes, that course starts with a focus on theoretical and foundational knowledge. Building a computer and understanding how the device processes instructions is vital information from a programming perspective. But once those foundations are in place, OPIT delivers on its promises of covering the most current topics in the field.
Machine learning, cloud computing, data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity – all valuable to employers – are taught at the undergraduate level. Students benefit from a broader approach to computer science than most institutions are capable of, rather than bogging them down in theory that serves little practical purpose.
Reason 5 – The Learning Experience
Let’s wrap up by honing in on what it’s actually like for students to learn with OPIT.
After all, as Ocleppo points out, one of the main challenges with online education is that students rarely have defined checkpoints to follow. They can start feeling lost in the process, confronted with a metaphorical ocean of information they need to learn, all in service of one big exam at the end.
Alternatively, some students may feel the temptation to not work through the materials thoroughly, focusing instead on passing a final exam. The result is that those students may pass, but they do so without a full grasp of what they’ve learned – a nightmare for employers who already have skill gaps to handle.
OPIT confronts both challenges by focusing on a continuous learning methodology. Assessments – primarily practical – take place throughout the course, serving as much-needed checkpoints for evaluating progress. When combined with the previously mentioned support that OPIT offers, this approach has led to courses that are created from scratch in service of the student’s actual needs.
Choose OPIT for Your Computer Science Education
At OPIT, the focus lies as much on helping students to achieve their dream careers as it does on teaching them. All courses are built collaboratively. With a dedicated faculty combined with major industry players, such as Google and Microsoft, it delivers materials that bridge the skill gap seen in the computer science field today.
There’s also more to come.
Beyond the three degrees OPIT offers, the institution plans to add more. Game development, data science, and cloud computing, to name a few, will receive dedicated degrees in the coming months, accentuating OPIT’s dedication to adapting to the continuous evolution of the computer science industry. Discover OPIT today – your journey into computing starts with the best online education institution available.