Natural computing refers to any type of computing technique that uses materials or inspiration from nature. Examples of natural computing include developing artificial neural networks that adapt to changes, and designing quantum computers that could potentially be many more times powerful than current computers. Natural computing also can refer to creating artificial substances that mimic those in nature.
There are a number of computational fields that use ideas from nature to create more efficient solutions to problems. Some computers also are being developed in the early 21st century to use natural materials, such as certain molecules, to perform faster and more efficient calculations. These techniques are all forms of natural computing, because they wouldn’t exist without detailed knowledge of how natural systems work.
Natural computing also can refer to trying to engineer artificial organisms that behave like naturally occurring systems. These include attempting to build systems that can perform processes such as gene regulation, which is important in living organisms. Another example is self assembly, which refers to systems that can organize themselves from a disorganized initial state.
Neural networks, for example, are often used by computer programmers who want a program automatically to become more efficient over time. These are based on the structures found in naturally occurring neural networks, such as those found in neurons in the brain. By using simple versions of the systems found in natural neural networks, computer programmers are able to make their programs more adaptable to new information. As of 2011, artificial neural networks don’t come close to the complexity of naturally occurring neural networks, but they still can be useful.
Another example of natural computing is researching how to build a quantum computer. The idea is that instead of modern computers, which perform calculations based on the binary states of 0 or 1, a quantum computer could theoretically use many more states. This could lead to much faster computers. While it is thought that a quantum computer is still a long way off, as of 2011, there seems to be no scientific reason why it can’t be achieved once technology has become advanced enough.
There are a variety of other examples of natural computing. These include designing artificial life, robotics and evolutionary computation. Swarm intelligence, which is a type of system that mimics large groups of animals such as ants, also may be important in the future. It has a number of potential applications, especially when trying to forecast future events.