As originally coined and first defined by Robert Freitas, the term ecophagy means, literally, the consuming of an ecosystem. Thus global ecophagy is the consumption of the entire worldwide ecosphere, for instance, by out-of-control self-replicating nanorobots. This is one well-known scenario for a technological singularity.

However, the word ecophagy has now been adopted by others concerned about less specific threats to the biosphere. There are other forms of planetary ecocide, and even intentional ecophagy - for instance, there was a long-standing USENET group called "alt.pave-the-earth" devoted to literally paving the whole Earth. More seriously, those with concerns about global economic monoculture as a threat to biosafety and biosecurity have used the term to refer to the potential for total loss of natural capital to economic processes, involving robots or just very stupid humans and institutions. The more common term for this is Easter Island Syndrome and refers to the devastation of that island by its own inhabitants in the 1500s, before any contact with Europeans.

The paper "Some Limits to Global Ecophagy by Biovorous Nanoreplicators, with Public Policy Recommendations" was published in April 2000 by Freitas, where 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'."

Some typical usages of the term:

"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 [2000]. 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'." (Bill Joy, "Genetics, nanotechnology, robotics pose danger to society," The Sunday Patriot-News Harrisburg, 23 July 2000.)

"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, The Sciences 40:3 (November/December 2000))

"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." (Philip Ball, "The Robot Within," New Scientist, 15 March 2003.)

See also gray goo (described by K. Eric Drexler in his book Engines of Creation), which is the more common term for molecular assemblers that compete directly with natural life.

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