Heuristics is the application of experience-derived knowledge to a problem and is sometimes used to describe software that screens and filters out messages likely to contain a computer virus or other undesirable content. A heuristic (pronounced hyu-RIS-tik and from the Greek “heuriskein” meaning “to discover”) is a “rule-of-thumb.” Heuristics software looks for known sources, commonly-used text phrases, and transmission or content patterns that experience has shown to be associated with e-mail containing viruses.
Because many companies or users receive a large volume of e-mail and because legitimate e-mail may also fall into the pattern, heuristics software sometimes results in many “false positives,” discouraging its use. Security experts note that, although such software needs to get better, it is a valuable and necessary tool.
It pertains to the process of gaining knowledge or some desired result by intelligent guesswork rather than by following some preestablished formula. (Heuristic can be contrasted with algorithmic.)
The term seems to have two usages:
1) Describing an approach to learning by trying without necessarily having an organized hypothesis or way of proving that the results proved or disproved the hypothesis. That is, “seat-of-the-pants” or “trial-by-error” learning.
2) Pertaining to the use of the general knowledge gained by experience, sometimes expressed as “using a rule-of-thumb.” (However, heuristic knowledge can be applied to complex as well as simple everyday problems. Human chess players use a heuristic approach.)
As a noun, a heuristic is a specific rule-of-thumb or argument derived from experience. The application of heuristic knowledge to a problem is sometimes known as heuristics .