The 9th century mathematician who laid the foundations of Artificial Intelligence

Nacho Palou    1 March, 2023

Algorithm is a very trendy word, as it relates closely to automation, data-driven decision making, and Artificial Intelligence in the digital realm.

Algorithms are used in many machine learning systems and neural networks to perform tasks such as image classification, pattern recognition, or data generation, including content like text, images, or music.

An algorithm is a defined series of specific steps to perform a particular task or solve a problem.

Nowadays, algorithms are present in many common systems and applications: they determine what posts we see on social media, which route we take with GPS, what news we read, or what suggestions are shown to us on online stores or streaming platforms, to name just a few examples.

Al-Juarismi and the origin of algorithms

However, algorithms are not a modern phenomenon. Their origins can be traced back to ancient times. They were probably used as early as ancient Babylon in 2500 BC, and continued to be developed in later cultures including Egyptian, Greek, and Indian. One of the most well-known is Euclid’s algorithm, developed around the 3rd century BC.

More “recently,” in the 9th century, the Persian mathematician Al-Juarismi (or al-Khwarizmi) compiled his mathematical works in a compendium that he published around 825 AD, contributing to laying the foundations of algebra and modern mathematics, including the numerical systems we use today.

Al-Juarismi’s publication included a series of solutions to algebraic problems and described methods for solving linear and quadratic equations (of first and second degree, respectively, essential in programming and problem-solving in science, engineering, and technology) using a set of rules and procedures that we now know as algorithms.

On the origin of the term algorithm, the most widely held belief points to the Latinization of the name Al-Juarismi (Algorizmi), which later derived into algorismus, although its exact etymology is not entirely clear.

Al-Juarismi was a highly influential author in the Middle Ages due to his contributions to mathematics, astronomy, and geography.

In any case, the term ‘algorithm’ was adopted in medieval Europe to refer to the methods of the Persian mathematician, an author of significant influence for his significant contributions to mathematics, astronomy, and geography.

Due to his contributions to modern mathematics, Al-Juarismi can also be considered one of the primordial fathers of computing, as his work in solving problems through algorithms has been fundamental to the development of computer science.

Currently, algorithms are essential for programming and the functioning of most computer systems. They are used to solve a wide variety of problems in fields such as Artificial Intelligence, cryptography, computer security, or process optimization, among other uses.

Algorithms and Artificial Intelligence

In the field we are concerned with, algorithms provide a framework for Artificial Intelligence systems to learn and evolve.

Thanks to them, Artificial Intelligence can perform complex tasks such as natural language processing, identifying anomalies and objects in images, generating content, or detecting patterns among large volumes of data and making decisions based on that information.

However, algorithms are not the only thing needed to develop Artificial Intelligence systems. Large amounts of relevant and high-quality data, as well as computer resources with the necessary power and capabilities to process them, are also necessary.

In addition, ethics, privacy, transparency, and security are also important aspects to consider when building trustworthy Artificial Intelligence, as its application can have a significant impact on people and society.

Featured photo: Charles Deluvio / Unsplash