Natural computing,[1][2] also called natural computation, is a terminology introduced to encompass three classes of methods: 1) those that take inspiration from nature for the development of novel problem-solving techniques; 2) those that are based on the use of computers to synthesize natural phenomena; and 3) those that employ natural materials (e.g., molecules) to compute. The main fields of research that compose these three branches are artificial neural networks, evolutionary algorithms, swarm intelligence, artificial immune systems, fractal geometry, artificial life, DNA computing, and quantum computing, among others.

Computational paradigms studied by natural computing are abstracted from natural phenomena as diverse as self-replication, the functioning of the brain, Darwinian evolution, group behavior, the immune system, the defining properties of life forms, cell membranes, and morphogenesis. Besides traditional electronic hardware, these computational paradigms can be implemented on alternative physical media such as biomolecules (DNA, RNA), or trapped-ion quantum computing devices.

Dually, one can view processes occurring in nature as information processing. Such processes include self-assembly, developmental processes, gene regulation networks, protein–protein interaction networks, biological transport (active transport, passive transport) networks, and gene assembly in unicellular organisms. Efforts to understand biological systems also include engineering of semi-synthetic organisms, and understanding the universe itself from the point of view of information processing. Indeed, the idea was even advanced that information is more fundamental than matter or energy. The Zuse-Fredkin thesis, dating back to the 1960s, states that the entire universe is a huge cellular automaton which continuously updates its rules.[3][4] Recently it has been suggested that the whole universe is a quantum computer that computes its own behaviour.[5]