The Kardashev Scale

  • July 26, 2017
  • 3-Minute Read

Through the years we have come to realize that it is more than likely that other life forms exist all over the universe—yet so far away that our technology can't reach them—sprouting all kinds of ideas in scientists' and sci-fi writers' heads. Russian astrophysicist and Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Nikolai Kardashev, came up with a scale in 1964 which categorizes civilizations based on something that all life in the universe have in common:  energy usage.

Everything in the universe is made out of matter and energy. Matter needs energy to work, atoms and other common particles in the universe would not exist without energy, and perhaps would even disintegrate by depriving them from it. Energy is the most important requirement for life, given that you have to acquire matter only once but maintain it by "burning" a steady stream of energy, and that is without saying that energy is a requirement to give shape to life itself. You could say that energy is the fuel used by matter to move through space and time.

The Scale Itself

Originally, Kardashev defined three levels of civilizations based on the power harnessed by them, but scientists have added at least two more levels to them—some say that Kardashev himself thought of them too advanced and refuted them at the time, or that Type III was advanced enough for him...

Type I Civilization: harnesses all the energy that hits its home planet from its star—giving it total control over their home planet, e.g. controlling the weather, the oceans, etc.

Type II Civilization: harnesses all the energy in the solar system, radiated from its star, possibly by building a Dyson sphere, a mega-structure that would completely encompass an entire star to harness its energy—they possibly would have control over everything in the solar system, conducting gigantic mining operations and the like.

Type III Civilization: this one is the biggest of all civilizations envisioned by Kardashev himself, a civilization that can harness the energy of an entire galaxy, now with technologies possibly reaching the realm of the gods—controlling an entire galaxy might not be an easy task. Possibly harnessing the power of black holes and capturing power from gamma-ray bursts.

Now things get a little strange.

Type IV Civilization: this civilization can harness the power of an entire Universe, by utilizing of technologies not even envisioned by us—at least we can be fairly sure that this civilization does not exist yet in this Universe, and if they do exist they don't care about us—or don't they...

Type V Civilization: controls the Multiverse, being able to manipulate reality itself and create Universes at will...

Where We Are

Life on Earth has existed for approximately 4 billion years, and intelligent life only exists for approximately 50 thousand years, when humans first became what we consider to be modern humans, after that it took some 38 thousand years for writing to be invented, and then some 12 thousand years for us to land on the moon.

Currently we are a Type Zero Civilization, almost reaching Type I. Perhaps we will reach Type I in one hundred years or less, considering the exponential evolution of our technology.