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The Kardashev Scale – Type I, II, III, IV & V Civilization

We have touched a turning point in society. According to famous theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, the next 100 years of science will decide whether we perish or flourish. Will we continue to be a Type 0 civilization, or will we progress and make our way into the stars?

Theorists emphasize that, as a civilization grows superior and becomes more advanced, its energy demands will rise quickly due to its population growth and the energy needs of its various machines. With this in mind, the Kardashev scale was made as a way of measuring a civilization’s technological progress based upon how much functional energy it has at its disposal.

Meet the Kardashev Scale

The scale was initially made in 1964 by the Russian astrophysicist, Nikolai Kardashev (who was searching for signs of extraterrestrial life within cosmic signals). It has 3 base classes, each with an energy usage level: Type I (10¹W), Type II (10²W), and Type III (10³W). . Other astrophysicists have prolonged the scale to Type IV (10⁴⁶W) and Type V (the energy accessible to this kind of civilization would equal that of all energy accessible in not just our cosmos, but in all universes and in all time-lines). These additions reflect both energy access as well as the amount of knowledge the civilizations have access to.

Initially, it is significant to note that the human race is not even on this scale yet. Since we still sustain our energy requirements from dead plants and animals, here on Earth, we are a poor Type 0 civilization (and we have a LONG way to go before being promoted to a type I civilization). Kaku inclines to believe that, all things taken into concern, we will reach Type I in 100 – 200 years time. But what does each of these classes really stand for in literal terms?

A Type I title is a given to species who have been capable of harnessing all the energy that is obtainable from a nearby star, collecting and storing it to meet the energy demands of a growing population. This means that we would need to increase our current energy production over 100,000 times to reach this status. Though, being capable of harnessing all Earth’s energy would also mean that we could have control over all natural forces. Human beings could control volcanoes, the weather, and even earthquakes! (At least, that is the impression.) These types of achievements are hard to believe, but compared to the advances that may still be to come, these are just basic and basic levels of control (it’s completely nothing comparative to the abilities of societies with higher rankings).

A Dyson Sphere (Credit: Slawek Wojtowicz)

The next step up – a Type II civilization – can harness the power of their whole star (not just converting starlight into energy, but controlling the star). Numerous methods for this have been suggested. The most popular of which is the hypothetical ‘Dyson Sphere.’ This device, if you want to call it that, would include every single inch of the star, collecting most (if not all) of its energy output and transporting it to a planet for later use. Instead, if fusion power (the mechanism that powers stars) had been mastered by the race, a reactor on a truly enormous scale could be used to fulfill their requirements. Nearby gas giants can be utilized for their hydrogen, gradually drained of life by an orbiting reactor.

What would this much energy mean for a species? Well, nothing known to science could wipe out a Type II civilization. Take, for instance, if humans lived long enough to attain this status, and a moon sized object arrived our solar system on a crash course with our little blue planet–we’d have the capability of vaporizing it out of existence. Or if we had time, we could move our planet out of the way, totally dodging it. But let’s say we didn’t want to move Earth… are there any other options? Well yes, since we’d have the ability to move Jupiter, or another planet of our choice, into the way – pretty cool, right?

So we’ve gone from having control over a planet, to a star, which has resulted in us harboring enough “disposable” energy to fundamentally make our civilization immune to extinction. But now, onto Type III, where a species then becomes galactic traversers with knowledge of everything having to do with energy, resulting in them becoming a master race.  In terms of humans, hundreds of thousands of years of evolution – both biological and mechanical – may result in the populations of this type III civilization being extremely different from the human race as we know it. These may be cyborgs (or cybernetic organism, beings both biological and robotic), with the offspring of regular humans being a sub-species among the now-highly advanced society. These completely biological humans would possibly be observed as being disabled, poorer, or unevolved by their cybernetic colleagues.

At this stage, we would have developed colonies of robots that are proficient of ‘self replication’; their population may upsurge into the millions as they spread out across the galaxy, inhabiting star after star. And these being might build Dyson Spheres to encapsulate each one, making a huge network that would carry energy back to the home planet. But extending over the galaxy in such a manner would face numerous difficulties; namely, the species would be constrained by the laws of physics. Chiefly, light-speed travel. That is, except they develop a working warp drive, or use that spotless energy cache to master wormhole teleportation (two things that remain theoretical for the time being), they can only get so far.

An artist rendering of such a civilization 
(Credit: Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword)

Kardashev believed a Type IV civilization was ‘too’ advanced and did not go beyond Type III on his scale. He thought that, confidently, this would be the extent of any species’ capability. Many think so, but a few believe there is a further level that could be achieved. (I mean, surely there is a limit?) Type IV civilizations would almost be capable of harnessing the energy content of the whole universe and with that, they could traverse the accelerating expansion of space (additionally, advance races of these species may live inside supermassive black holes). To previous methods of producing energy, these kinds of feats are considered impossible. A Type IV civilization would require to tap into energy sources unknown to us using strange, or currently unknown, laws of physics.

Type V. Yes, Type V might just be the next possible advancement to such a civilization. Here beings would be like gods, having the knowledge to manipulate the universe as they please. Now, as I said, humans are a very, very long way from ever reaching anything like this. But it’s not to say that it cannot be achieved as long as we take care of Earth and each other. To do so, the first step is to preserve our tiny home, extinguish war, and continue to support scientific advances and discoveries.

Article Originally Published on FQ2Q
Author: Joe Garland 

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