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Generally speaking, a heuristic is a "rule of thumb," or a good guide to follow when making decisions. In computer science, a heuristic has a similar meaning, but refers specifically to algorithms.

When programming software, computer programmers aim to create the most efficient algorithms to accomplish various tasks. These may include simple processes like sorting numbers or complex functions such as processing images or video clips. Since these functions often accept a wide range of input, one algorithm may perform well in certain cases, while not very well in others.