Science 8 min read

The Kardashev Scale Explained

NASA images |

NASA images |

With the rapid rate of advancement that we’ve been experiencing over the last few decades, it may feel like we’re coming to the end of our technological tethers.

Back in 1980, it would be impossible to imagine the scale of advancement that we have achieved in less than half a century. With global communication, mass transit, and every aspect of our lives becoming smarter, smaller, and more efficient, many may think that we’re coming to the limits of what humans can achieve.

However, for many, we’re only just getting started.

We may have advanced to the point where we can manipulate elements, understand our planet, and use fossil fuels to create energy, but we’re nowhere near where we could be.

Read More: How Humans Will Mine the Moon

According to Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev, we’re not yet even on the scale of what we could achieve.

In the 1960s, Nikolai Kardashev created a scale to measure the advancement of a species, now known as the Kardashev Scale. Using energy consumption as his metric, he claimed there were three levels to this scale, Type I, Type II, and Type III. Later, astronomers added two more levels, but we’ll get to those later.

Now, with all of our technology, sophistication, and advancement, where do humans fall on the scale? Well, we don’t. According to Kardashev, we’re still a Type 0.

Type I: The Whole World in Our Hands

The Kardashev Scale Explained

Although we now understand how to harvest the energy of fossil fuels, atoms, and even the Sun, we’re still not even close to becoming a Type I civilization.

According to Kardashev, a Type I civilization is one which can harness the entire power of the planet it inhabits. That is, it is a civilization which can harvest the power of the wind, sea, and even earthquakes to power its society. A Type I civilization doesn’t mean that we just have solar cells and wind turbines everywhere, it means we have full control of our planet. From stopping volcanos erupting to manufacturing tsunamis to generate power, this stage would mean we would control every aspect of our planet.

Although we have made some steps towards this goal, we’re not even close.

Already in the depths of our own energy crisis, it will most likely be several decades before we can begin to think of harvesting the full power of our planet. That is if we ever manage to survive the effects of climate change.

If we do survive, however, and manage to harness the whole power of Earth, we can then look forward to leaping to the next level of the Kardashev Scale: harnessing our nearest star.

Read More: Most of the World Could be 100% Reliant on Renewable Energy by 2050

Type II — True Solar Power

The Kardashev Scale Explained

As the most powerful body in our solar system that provides us with life, energy, and sunsets, the Sun is a pretty powerful thing to behold. After reaching Type I on the Kardashev Scale, one may think that the next leap will be easier, but they’d be wrong.

Harnessing the energy of a single planet is one thing, but fully controlling the massive power of a star is a positively immense undertaking.

For this task, a civilization would most likely need to construct a Dyson Sphere: a device that entirely controls the emission power of a star. Originally conceptualized in the 1960s, a Dyson Sphere is a thought experiment on the idea of harvesting all of the energy from a star.

Once constructed, the Dyson Sphere would entirely cover the sun, harvesting all of the energy from it for a civilization to use to grow and further develop.

Although it may seem entirely impossible, we don’t know what our species could be capable of in a couple of centuries time. Think of it like someone from the Bronze Age waking up in Tokyo tomorrow. It may seem inconceivable to them, but to us, it’s entirely normal.

With a Type II civilization, it’s one thing to think about the ability to harness the power of the Sun, but another to think about what a civilization could do with all that energy.

The entire Solar System would become controllable. From terraforming Jupiter to moving Saturn a couple of million miles out of orbit to absorb an asteroid, a Type II Civilization would have the power of its entire planetary neighborhood in its hand.

A civilization like this would have a minor chance of staying at this level of advancement. Once you have one solar system under your belt, it makes doing it again and again seem a lot easier. This brings us to a Type III Civilization, something which will take millennia to develop.

Read More: New Solar Device Harvests Energy From Sun and Beams Heat Into Space

Type III — The Milky Way and Beyond

The Kardashev Scale Explained

Harnessing the power of an entire galaxy may seem like a stretch, but given enough time and energy, it is technically possible.

A Type II civilization will almost certainly have achieved the power of full automation.

It’s hard to say what a civilization would look like at this stage. If humanity ever reaches the point of this scale, it is highly likely that organic bodies would no longer be a thing.

With advances in cyber-genetic engineering, that civilization would probably become a silicon-based lifeform with a life expectancy of hundreds if not thousands of years. But, that’s a topic for another time.

With the ability to produce hyper intelligent, self-replicating robots, there would be nothing to stop this civilization from sending out colonization parties to every star in a galaxy. With every star they harness the power of, they can grow exponentially.

Naturally, there are a couple of major issues with reaching this level on the Kardashev scale, namely the problem of faster than light travel. But, if your society is advanced enough to harness the power of a solar system, you’ve probably already figured out this issue.

Wormholes and warp drives are technically possible, so with the power of a galaxy, there’s no reason to think that a Type III society isn’t also feasible.

These three types were the limit of Kardashev’s scale, but some others have pushed these galactic boundaries even further.

Read More: The Definitive Guide to Black Holes

Type IV & V: The Kardashev Scale Complete

The Kardashev Scale Explained

When a society colonizes an entirely galaxy, where do they go next? Well, to the next galaxy of course. Given a long enough timeline and enough energy, a Type III civilization could technically colonize other galaxies.

Traveling across the vast expanse of space between the Milky Way and Andromeda may seem impossible, but if you have full control over the power and movement of the galaxy, you can just gradually move one to meet the other.

Just like a Type II civilization can exponentially expand from star to star to colonize the galaxy, so can a Type III race take over the entire Universe.

Obviously, this would take a practically infinite amount of time to do. But, if you have control over the entire Universe, theoretically you could control time too, so that would not technically be an issue.

Type IV on the Kardashev Scale is where many draw the line, but some say that a Type V could be possible. Literally stretching the possibilities of existence, a Type V civilization would colonize every single Universe out there, not just our own.

With the full of control of reality, existence, and everything, what would a society do next? Well, after millennia of expansion and exploration, probably take a long holiday.

Read More: Earliest Galaxies in the Universe Identified by Astronomers

Future Possibilities & Current Problems

The Kardashev Scale is an imagined measurement of the progress of a civilization but, theoretically, there is no reason why humanity cannot make it to at least Type IV. First though, we need to focus on step one — harnessing and controlling our own planet.

Although some would see making it to a Type I civilization as controlling the Earth through force, it’s more that we come to understand our home planet entirely; working with it to preserve both us and everything that makes up our Earth.

For us to achieve this, we need to change our understanding of our role on the planet. Aspects like climate change, global conflict, and mass pollution stand in the way of us reaching a Type I civilization but, given enough time and cooperation, there is no reason why we can’t overcome those challenges.

Read More: Renewable Energy Job Creation in the Millions

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    Paul Weidner April 18 at 3:05 am GMT

    Thank you for the article. I had a great time reading it!

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