This four-volume, 2,000-plus-page handbook is an achievement of excellent editing. The topics covered are widely disparate and there are dozens of authors involved, and yet the editors have produced a beautifully coordinated, balanced, and very readable resource. All the contributions are very well written, and moreover very well illustrated, and the individual chapters seem able to balance depth of coverage with accessibility. While the mathematical underpinning is rigorous, the clear text and the graphics make it possible for nonexperts to understand the topics with a reasonable effort.
The term natural computing covers a vast field of research. In this handbook, many of the topics are classified into themes, which are organized into parts, such as cellular automata, neural computation, evolutionary computation, molecular computation, and quantum computation. The fourth volume is dedicated to a “broader perspective,” covering several ideas and applications that don’t quite fit within the other themes, such as artificial immune systems, swarm intelligence, and evolvable hardware. Some novel application areas are also introduced, such as finance. Overall, the handbook covers a wide landscape of computing models based on processes observed in nature.
Many of these interdisciplinary approaches may be considered speculative, but some of them are reaching maturity; therefore, it behooves scientists (including computer scientists) to understand these areas. The many chapters in the various sections of this book show different aspects of the overall approach. Some chapters give a flavor of their topics in an informal manner, others explain the mathematics, while still others show how the topics can be applied. The emphasis throughout seems to be to explain the concepts without too many implementation details. The tone and clarity are consistent throughout, which makes it possible to read consecutive chapters without noticing any change in style or authorship. Each chapter also includes a good list of references for further study.
I found it really inspiring to browse through all four volumes together, as it helps to get details of any one approach while having a view of the wider context. I realize the cost of the whole set may be prohibitive for individual purchase, but I would suggest it as an excellent addition to any academic library. It provides a solid, easy-to-digest foundation for topics of increasing importance, and the grouping of chapters into related parts provides far more information than individual chapters could. There is some mathematics but not enough to turn away anyone likely to pick up the book. The authors seem to have been encouraged to use diagrams and figures, and these really do make the book much more user friendly. One of the first things I noticed was the very careful typesetting.
While I did not read every sentence of this handbook, I did notice that the main editor claims to be a performing magician and an expert on the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Maybe these details are not just incidental: Bosch, after all, is a master in capturing a huge amount of detail in a coherent and elegant fashion.