Science & Technology

The Kardashev Scale Is a Tool that Measures How Advanced a Civilization Is

Schools give grades, and jobs give promotions. But how can the performance of a civilization as a whole be measured? That escalated quickly, we know. When you enter the realm of theoretical physics and start talking about the Kardashev Scale, that'll happen.

Related Video: Should We Build a Dyson Sphere?

Stay Humble, Earthlings

Russian astrophysicist Nicolai Kardashev is the man behind his namesake scale, which categorizes civilizations into their levels of advancement. Before getting to his three-tier ranking system, he concluded that the status of a civilization is the product of two things: energy and technology. Basically, the better technology you have, the more energy you can harness. The more energy you harness, the better technology you can create. And so on, and so on. Kardashev believed a society would only get as far as its technology and ability to use energy would take it.

In 1964, Kardashev identified three levels of classifications of civilizations in his paper, Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations. This first version of the Kardashev Scale includes buckets for a planetary civilization, a stellar civilization, and a galactic civilization. If you think humanity on Earth fits in any of those slots today, you are the weakest link, goodbye. (Earth used to fit in the first bucket, only because the first version of the Kardashev Scale strictly dealt with communication technology.)

Level Up ... and Up, and Up

Since Kardashev published his scale in the '60s, his three categories have been slightly edited and more categories have been proposed. Hang onto your hats, this list escalates by orders of magnitudes at each terrifying step.

Type 0: This is a subglobal culture that still gets its energy from raw materials, like dead plants and animals. They can't even really leave their home planet yet. Sound familiar? You guessed it, that's us! In 1973, Carl Sagan estimated that we're at about a 0.7. Not bad.

Type I: This is a planetary culture, a half step above Earth. This civilization can harness all of its planet's energy and utilize all available resources. Rumor has it, humanity will be here in about 100-200 years. Fingers crossed.

Type II: A stellar culture is where things start getting wild. This civilization would be able to harness all of the energy from its star. If all goes well, we're about a few thousand years away from this. This is when and where a Dyson sphere can happen, ya'll.

Type III: A galactic culture could harness the energy from — you guessed it — an entire galaxy. According to Futurism, that's about 10 billion times the energy output of a Type II civilization, and about 100,000 to 1 million years more advanced than we are.

Type IV: A universal culture would be able to harness all of the universe's energy. Wow, this is exhausting. A civilization at this stage could change the shape of space-time and maybe even achieve immortality.

Type V: A multiverse culture is almost literally impossible for us to imagine. This civilization has transcended its origin universe.

Type VI: WHEN WILL THIS END? This civilization is probably actually god-like. Not sure we yet have the words to describe how advanced this stage would be.

Dr. Michio Kaku shared his thoughts about the Kardashev Scale in his book "The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth" (that's an affiliate link; if you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale) and on the Curiosity Podcast. Stream or download using the player below, or find the episode everywhere podcasts are found, including iTunes, Stitcher, and Gretta

Written by Joanie Faletto July 15, 2017

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