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Ecophagy is a term coined by Robert Freitas that means, literally, the consuming of an ecosystem. Freitas used the term to describe a scenario involving molecular nanotechnology gone awry. In this situation (called the grey goo scenario) out-of-control self-replicating nanorobots consume entire ecosystems, resulting in global ecophagy. However, the word "ecophagy" is now applied more generally in reference to any event--nuclear war, the spread of monoculture, massive species extinctions--that might fundamentally alter the planet. Scholars suggest that these events might result in ecocide in that they would undermine the capacity of the earth to repair itself. Others suggest that more mundane and less spectacular events--the unrelenting growth of the human population, the steady transformation of the natural world by human beings--will eventually result in a planet that is considerably less vibrant, and one that is, apart from humans, essentially lifeless. These people believe that the current human trajectory puts us on a path that will eventually lead to ecophagy.
The paper in which Freitas coined the term was entitled Some Limits to Global Ecophagy by Biovorous Nanoreplicators, with Public Policy Recommendations and was published in April 2000. In it he wrote:
Perhaps the earliest-recognized and best-known danger of molecular nanotechnology is the risk that self-replicating nanorobots capable of functioning autonomously in the natural environment could quickly convert that natural environment (e.g., "biomass") into replicas of themselves (e.g., "nanomass") on a global basis, a scenario usually referred to as the "grey goo problem" but perhaps more properly termed "global ecophagy".
- Nanotechnologists have similarly recognized that out-of-control nanobots could destroy the biosphere; a first quantitative study of this possibility of "global ecophagy"; by Robert Freitas was recently published in response to the article I wrote on this subject in Wired in April . His study is quite troubling, showing the clear dangers we face from unrestricted nanotechnology and the extreme difficulty and enormous scale required of any "defense".
- As far as I know, this article by Mr. Freitas was the first detailed, published analysis of the so-called "gray goo" problem. — Bill Joy
- They call it "global ecophagy". That's "eating the Earth" to you and me. Rumour has it that this is what replicating nanostructures might do, and according to one estimate, they could gobble up the entire planet in about three hours flat.
Many people are frightened by this grey goo
- Grey goo
- Molecular assembler
- Some Limits to Global Ecophagy by Biovorous Nanoreplicators, with Public Policy Recommendations
- critical review of the Freitas article in biosafety group
- "Intentional Ecophagy" references
- "Nanotechnology Daily News"
- Bill Joy, Genetics, nanotechnology, robotics pose danger to society, The Sunday Patriot-News Harrisburg, 23 July 2000.
- Philip Ball, The Robot Within, New Scientist, 15 March 2003.)
Categories: Ecology | Environmental ethics | Environmental disasters | Nanotechnology