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Kardashev Scale: Measuring a Civilization’s Level of Technology and Its Potential to Advance

BY Gavin Alexander January 11, 2021

Kardashev scaleFamous astronomer Carl Sagan commented we are in a period of “… technological adolescence.” At this period in time, humans have existed only 0.0015% of the total time since the universe was created. That is over 13.8 billion years and countingIt shows how young we are and also illustrates our extreme potential in that we have taken over our planet so quickly. To test and measure this human capacity, in 1964 Soviet and Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev devised a scale—Kardashev Scale. This would measure our potential and skill to go beyond the realms of our universe and build an alternative life.

It is widely accepted that this potential will increase so much so we will have the power to not only control our own planet but control other astronomical bodies in the universe, and implement and create new ones. Even to the point of creating new or parallel universes, changing reality and time and space as we know it.

Nikolai Kardashev and The Scale He Built

A troubled earlier life during the Russian Revolution–his father was killed and his mother sent to a labour camp–did not affect his ambition and aptitude for astrophysics. Originally looking for extraterrestrial life using cosmic signals, Kardashev created a scale to measure a civilisation’s level of technological advancement based on the amount of energy it can consume.

It is a logarithmic method meaning that the parameters will constantly change, in this case, the amount of energy a civilisation can produce will increase substantially. When the scale was calculated in the 60s for example, Earth was ranked at type I in the chart while now it has been demoted to type 0. Simply, because we have discovered more about the potential energy the universe holds and the amount we can extract from it.

Types of Civilisation

Originally, there were three types formulated by the Russian.  Type I, II and III.

The energy level of consumption per year is as follows:

Type I – 10¹⁶W, (10,000,000,000,000,000 Watts)

Type II – 10²⁶W,

Type III – 10³⁶W.

Type one is considered a Planetary civilisation—the smallest type like Earth. However, as mentioned, Earth has not reached this stage because we still produce most of our energy from dead matter, with renewable power still in its infancy. This is changing but in 2015, nuclear, hydro and sonar energy were only 30% of the total world’s consumption with the planet remaining heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Earth consumed only 17.35 Terawatts of energy or 17350000000000 Watts, a far cry from 10¹⁶W. For reaching Type I, we will need to harness all available energy from our nearest host star–the Sun.

Another requisite of Type I is being able to control the geographic phenomena of one’s planet such as weather and volcanos. It sounds unbelievable, but not if you remember the old cliché of technology one hundred years ago compared with today. Famous American-Japanese physicist Michio Kaku believes we will reach Type I in less than two hundred years–barring any apocalyptic events.

Type II is a stellar civilisation, not only using the energy of one’s nearest host star but controls it too. The power achieved could transfer energy anywhere in the solar system, a proposed way of doing so via hypothetical solar-powered satellites called Dyson Sphere–the brainchild of Freeman Dyson. They are commonplace in many Sci-Fi films. Alternatively, nuclear fusion (gaining energy from the heat of reactions) is another process. If so, we could control every planet and asteroid in the galaxy. Michio Kaku believes this is possible in two thousand years max. Reaching this stage would make civilisation immune to extinction on a global scale.

Type III–the galactic civilisation does not bear thinking about. We humans today, with our limited electronic symbiosis, would be a primitive footnote if we made it there. We are talking about the potential to consume energy from our galaxy and other galaxies, harness the power from billions of stars, black holes, the ability to travel anywhere in the universe at high speeds, even in the blink of an eye and the aptitude to change and create galaxies. Simply put, the universe would become our playground. Kaku believes this will take anywhere from 100,000 to one million years.

There are now two more levels proposed, such has been the advances in technology. These are less accepted and are fairly similar to Type III.

Type IV – requires 10⁴⁶W

Type V – “the energy available to this kind of civilization would equal that of all energy available in not just our universe, but in all universes and in all timelines.”

Type IV would result in the complete manipulation of the universe to the point of manipulating space and time. Type V would be similar but not just in our observable universe but anything beyond. Ultimately, creating multiverse, parallel universes, manipulating reality as we know it.

The Future

It’s funny to think all this potential could disintegrate in a split second if our fragile civilisation becomes extinct. It has happened many times in the past, one of the most famous being the disputed Toba Catastrophe. Although it can also be argued that even if our civilisation perished, the laws of the universe would not change so surely the next civilisation be it in one thousand years or one billion could reach these points. To be honest, all of this gives more rise to simulation theory.

Either way, if Michio Kaku is correct, we have a few thousand years to protect ourselves and our planet before science can protect it for us. If our civilisation wants to achieve the impossible, then the race is well and on.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “Gliese 581g: A Habitable Exoplanet or Just Another Celestial Object Orbiting a Star?“.

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