Updated: Oct 14, 2020
Any civilization is ranked based on their energy consumption. On a scale of I to VI, where exactly does humanity stand and what does each level on the scale mean?
We humans have always felt proud about how far we’ve come as species and of all our achievements. Now we have come to the point where every advancement we achieve is based on energy or at least makes use of energy in one form or another. The Kardashev Scale makes use of precisely this (use of energy) to rank a civilization. The scale varies from I to VI, where VI is the highest. The Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of the technological advancements of the modern world, which lead to where we are now. But what if I said that in the Kardashev scale, our ranking is 0? Yes, you read it right. We are still a type 0 civilization.
What does the scale mean in the first place?
Well, Nikolai Kardashev in 1964 proposed a method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement based on its energy usage. It was named as Kardashev scale. Being a radio astronomer, his idea of classifying was through radio astronomy. The idea was, if a civilization could radiate emissions with energies as high as those of naturally occurring radio sources like pulsars, radio galaxies and such, they could be easily detected, even though we ourselves cannot emit due to technological limitations.
So, what does being a type 0 civilization mean?
Simply put, we haven’t been able to harness the energy sources of the planet. We are majorly dependent on Oil (39%), Coal (28%) and Gas (22%) sources. The increase in global energy consumption every year is estimated to be about 3%, so, being dependent on dead animal and plant fossils isn’t really an ideal way to progress into the future. Although type 0 wasn’t defined by Kardashev himself, Carl Sagan in 1970s suggested that we were a 0.7 type civilization. So, by using the formula Sagan suggested, an estimate given in 2018 gave us a value of 0.73 on the interpolated Kardashev scale.
This brings us to the actual scale given by Kardashev (I - III) and added scale by others (IV - VI).
Type I (10^16 W)
Type I entails planetary control. The civilization would be able to harness and make use of all the energy sources of a planet; which means, all the sunlight the planet receives, wind, water, heat and everything that a planet has. In theory, the species should be able to control volcanos, the tectonic plate movements, the weather, flora and fauna and even earthquakes. Nuclear energy would become a child’s play and readily available. Assuming that we don’t drive ourselves into extinction by rendering the planet totally uninhabitable, Dr. Michio Kaku says that we should be able to achieve Type I status in the next 100 - 200 years (given the rate of energy consumption increase every year is at least 3%).
Type II (10^26 W)
The next step after total planetary control is to control the host star, which is estimated to take anywhere between 3000 – 5000 years. We would be able to harness most of the energy, if not all, radiated from the star. The most popular candidate for this is the hypothetical Dyson Sphere. It’s a megastructure that encompasses the entire star and absorbs entire or most of the energy output. You might be thinking, “How are we going to gather the massive amount of material required?” Well, given that we have already reached planetary control, it won’t be hard to move around the solar system, mining and terraforming planets to our requirements. Then there are asteroids to mine as well. So, they should pretty much provide us with all the materials.
Any known threats to us currently would not be much of an issue then. You have an asteroid the size of the moon or Pluto heading towards you? Vaporize it out of existence. We’ve got all the energy for it anyway. Or you can even set up another planet to intercept and collide with it. I mean, stellar energy is pretty much overwhelming for anything of the scale of planets.
Type III (10^37 W)
Now, we are 100,000 – 1,000,000 years into the future and have become a type III civilization. We would be able to harness the energy output of our entire galaxy. That means Dyson Spheres around all the innumerable stars, all capturing energy for our use. Methods of harnessing supernovas and the like. That’s not all, we would also be harnessing energy from all the black holes as well. But with current laws of physics and understanding, we face a limitation as to how fast we can travel. Galaxy being as massive as it is, we would need faster than light (FTL) travel methods. Maybe we develop warp drives, or maybe we would be able to open up wormholes connecting every corner of the galaxy. Sounds impossible, right? As of now, yep. These are nothing but fiction.
Along with all the tech advancements, we humans would be far more developed as well. We would have more cybernetics in our body than biological parts. Which makes sense since our bodies cannot handle travelling at FTL speeds, and also to be able to handle so much information at all times.
Type IV (10^45 W)
Kardashev didn’t think type IVs and above would even be possible, so he stopped at III. But the people who added IV, V and VI thought “Why not!” No time estimate is given for type IV, so, my guess is as good as any. Anyway, once we reach type IV, we would be harnessing the entire energy of the universe. Spanning over all the galaxies there are, traversing between galaxies for holidays, or breakfasts, we probably cannot even fathom the information and knowledge as we are now. Having total control over the universe would also mean control over entropy! Reversing entropy could very well mean being immortal in the true sense.
What more can a civilization do after type IV? Multiverse control! But make sure to not read into things too much from here on. We would be able to traverse between multiverses, manipulate on universe-scale, interact with matter, physics and space-time beyond imagination. The tech prowess is unimaginable. Can we even call ourselves as living beings at this point?
Surely this has to be the highest possible type, right? Well, nope. A civilization beyond this has been proposed as well.
The ability is well beyond understanding, but I think it would be safe to say that creating and destroying on universe-scale is possible here. Maybe this is where Gods reside, beyond time and space.
When everything is said and done, we still are in our infancy and have a really really long way to go. But to be able to progress, at least to type I, we need to work together towards ending conflicts, taking care of our planet so that we can safely sustain till we have total control over the planet. Continued support towards scientific advancements and discoveries are an absolute necessity. We need to get past ‘who-did-what’s, and ‘who-did-it-first’s to progress. Maybe we can. Maybe we will. Let’s see.