Thomas Cormen

Algorithm: A Ninth-Century Term for 21st-Century Computing

Joseph Blumberg

Computer scientist Thomas Cormen still remembers that he “only got an A minus” in his algorithms course at Princeton. This minor blemish on his academic record didn’t stop Cormen, a New Yorker, from graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Curiously, it turns out that much of his professional life has revolved around the science of algorithms.

Whether we know it or not, our lives revolve around algorithms. Much of what we do today depends on computers, and algorithms are the step-by-step sets of instructions a computer must follow in order to do its job.

“Algorithms are at the core of all things digital,” says Cormen, a professor and chair of Dartmouth’s Department of Computer Science. “They run on your laptop, your smartphone, your GPS device, and in systems imbedded in your car, your microwave oven—everywhere.”