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An algorithm that can find an approximate result quickly when an exact result would be too expensive to calculate.

As an example, if you wanted to find the largest number among millions of numbers (and these numbers where somehow very expensive to find or operate on), you could sample a thousand of them, have a look at the statistical distribution of those thousand numbers, and say that the maximum among all the numbers is within such-and-such a range with such-and-such probability.

You could say that a public poll uses an approximation algorithm - instead of asking everyone in the country, you ask a small sample and extrapolate from the result using statistical methods.

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โˆ™ 2009-10-12 21:27:40
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Q: What is an approximation algorithm?
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