Thursday, March 05, 2009, 3/05/2009 02:18:00 PM

Algorithms as Trade Secrets

An interesting article from the Guardian (U.K.) concerning algorithms. From the subhead:

Ever wondered why traffic lights turn red when they do? How Amazon works out its recommendations? Or how Google prioritises its search lists? It's all done by algorithms - jealously guarded mathematical recipes that increasingly dictate how we lead our lives.

In the words of the article "algorithms are like computer programs or flowcharts - a sequence of steps that examines what is happening and comes to a conclusion. "


Since these recipes have helped internet companies cook up billions in profits, the precise details of the mathematical mechanisms are jealously guarded as among the companies' most valuable assets. Forget the recipe for Coke or the Colonel's blend of herbs and spices, these are the trade secrets of the 21st century. And wherever there are secrets, there are people desperate to unlock them. Around the world, countless hours and millions - perhaps billions - of pounds are spent trying to unravel the inner workings of the web's most powerful algorithms.

Google, for example, is reputed to spend millions keeping its key search algorithms a secret.

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