Kardashev Scale: From Lowly Bipeds to Homo Deus

We have gone through our fair share of impediments on our planet – wars, cataclysmic weather events, epidemics, geological upheavals, environmental destruction etc. Fortunately, we also have a lot of propitious things going for us: we’ve set foot on another world – our moon, send spacecrafts to other planets, shot space probes past our solar system, the proliferation of electricity and the internet, unravelled many scientific mysteries such as the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle at Large Hadron Collider, detection of gravitational waves emanating from billions of light-years away and captured the image of a real black hole by turning the planet into one giant telescope.

So how can we weigh all the uplifting scientific innovations and discoveries against all the other mayhem and chaos? We are dealing with an ever-increasing list of calamities coupled with a relentless quest for technological innovation. With such an antithetical coupling of ghastly disasters and crafty innovations, how can we possibly estimate our progress as a civilization?

Well, one thing that’s clear is that as a civilization grows larger and becomes more advanced, its energy demands increase rapidly due to its population growth and the energy requirements of its various machines. With this in mind, the Kardashev Scale was developed as a way of measuring a civilization’s technological advancement based upon how much usable energy it has at its disposal. The scale was originally designed in 1964 by Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev, who was looking for signs of extraterrestrial life within cosmic signals.

This scale considers both:

  • energy access in watts
  • amount of knowledge the civilizations have access to

The human race is not even on this scale yet. Since we still sustain our energy needs from dead plants and animals, here on Earth, we are a lowly Type 0 civilization, and we have a long way to go before being promoted to a Type I civilization. All things taken into consideration; we will reach Type I in 100 – 200 years’ time.

Type I, Planetary Civilization

This is given to species who have been able to harness all the energy that is available in their home planet, about 1016W, gathering and storing it to meet the energy demands of a growing population. Humanity would need to boost our current energy production over 100,000 times to reach this status. Being able to harness all Earth’s energy would also mean that we could have control over all the natural forces. Human beings could control volcanoes, weather, and even earthquakes. These kinds of feats may be hard to believe, but compared to the advances that may still be to come, these are just basic and primitive levels of control – absolutely nothing compared to the capabilities of societies with higher rankings.

Type II, Interplanetary Civilization

This civilization can harness the power of its home star, 1026W, not merely transforming starlight into energy, but controlling the star.  Several methods on how to achieve this have been put forth:

  • The Dyson Sphere [above pictured]. This device would encompass every single inch of the star, gathering most (if not all) of its energy output and transferring it to a planet for later use.
  • If fusion power (the mechanism that powers stars) had been mastered by the race, a reactor on a truly immense scale could be used to satisfy their needs. Nearby gas giants can be utilized for their hydrogen, slowly 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. It could harbour enough ‘disposable’ energy to essentially make the civilization immune to extinction. Take, for instance, if humans survived long enough to reach this status, and a moon-sized object entered our solar system on a collision course with our little blue planet – we’d have the ability to vaporize it out of existence. Or if we had time, we could move our planet out of the way, completely dodging it. But let’s say we didn’t want to move Earth, are there any other options? Well yes, because we’d have the capability to move Jupiter, or another planet of our choice, into the way – cool, aye?

Type III, Galactic Civilization

A species 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 inhabitants of this Type III civilization being incredibly different from the human race as we know it. These may be cyborgs, cybernetic organism, beings both biological and robotic parts, with the descendants of regular humans being a sub-species among the now-highly advanced society. These wholly biological humans would likely be seen as being disabled, inferior, or unevolved by their cybernetic counterparts.

At this stage, we would have developed colonies of robots that are capable of ‘self-replication’; their population may increase into the millions as they spread out across the galaxy, colonizing star after star, creating a huge network that would carry energy, 1036W, back to the home planet. But stretching over the galaxy in such a manner would face several problems; namely, the species would be constrained by the laws of physics. Particularly, light-speed travel. That is unless they develop:

  • a working warp drive (yes, the Star Trek faster-than-light travel),
  • use that immaculate energy cache to master wormhole teleportation.

Though these two things remain theoretical for the time being, they can only get so far.

Type IV, Universal Civilization

Nikolai Kardashev believed a Type IV civilization was ‘too advanced’ and didn’t go beyond Type III on his scale. He thought that, surely, this would be the extent of any species’ ability. Many think so, but a few believe there is a further level that could be achieved. (Surely, is there a limit?)

Type IV civilizations would almost be able to harness the energy content of the entire universe, 1046W, and with that, they could traverse the accelerating expansion of space. Furthermore, advanced races of these species may live inside supermassive black holes. To previous methods of generating energy, these kinds of feats are considered impossible. A Type IV civilization would need to tap into energy sources unknown to us using strange, or currently unknown laws of physics.

Type V, Deus Civilization

Civilizations can control the power outputs of a vast number (and quite possibly, all) of the universes, 10W. Such societies could jump between multiverses that contain varied forms of matter, physics and spacetime. 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 waring, and continue to support scientific advances and discoveries.

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