When Will We Advance to a Type 1 Civilization on the Kardashev Scale?
By: Gaia Staff | June 27, 2017
Russian astrophysicist, Nikolai Kardashev, formulated a scale to hypothetically rank civilizations based on their method and level of energy consumption.
We like to believe that we live in a technologically advanced society in which we have mastered our environment and are progressing forward on an exponential path. And while Moore’s Law is holding up with computing advancement at such a rate, we barely rank on the Kardashev scale. Yes, this scale is hypothetical, but it is plausible if we are to think of how we might inevitably ascend to the next level. The Kardashev scale ranks civilizations primarily on how they harness energy and then it assumes other interesting capabilities from there.
Nikolai Kardashev is a Russian astrophysicist, who in 1964 developed a thought experiment regarding how civilizations might advance. Although our civilization has not quite reached the first level on his scale, we are a relatively new civilization in his grand scope. The amount of time that is required to reach the different thresholds of Kardashev’s scale requires millions and eventually billions of years. If a civilization can survive long enough to ascend one level without self-destructing, its chances dramatically improve in continuing on to further levels.
The Kardashev Scale
Sub-Global Type Civilization
A sub-global civilization is one in which we currently live. This type of civilization depends on crude, organic sources of fuel like wood, coal and oil. We also use this type of fuel for chemical propulsion in our rockets, making space travel slow and difficult. We are confined to our home planet and struggle with ecological issues, whether that is natural disasters or issues caused by climate change. The good news is that physicists like Michio Kaku believe we are on the precipice of advancing into a Type 1 civilization, potentially within the next century.
A planetary civilization has harnessed the entire energy output of its home planet or about 100,000 times the amount of energy we can harness. At this point, this civilization could control the weather on their planet and would not be phased by ecological issues. Natural phenomena could be altered and cities would likely be built wherever the civilization desired, like in the middle of the ocean. This is one self-preserving step in the direction of immortality for a civilization.
A stellar civilization is a few thousand years more advanced than we are. This level of society would be able to harness all energy from its local star. This is where things start to get interesting and technology of this proportion becomes harder to fathom. A theoretical model that parallels Kardashev’s scale comes from Freeman Dyson, who conceived of the eponymous Dyson sphere. He formulated his theory in a paper titled, Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation, proposing a search for infrared radiation which could potentially be seen in civilizations harnessing the energy of their star with a Dyson Sphere. Dyson theorized a progression of levels in which a civilization could start to extract energy from its star ranging from a swarm of satellites to an actual spherical structure hovering around the star that could be inhabited. This method of extracting energy from a star in a controlled manner is called star lifting.
Civilizations of this stature would essentially have reached the level of immortality because they would have the ability to move planets and other astronomical bodies within its solar system. Imagine if we had the ability to block an inbound asteroid by moving Mars into its path.
Civilizations of this magnitude look very much like those in Star Wars. These civilizations would have the ability to harness the energy of any star in its galaxy, translating to roughly 10 billion times the energy harnessed by a level 2 civilization. At this point, a civilization this advanced would be essentially immune to extinction, barring some sort of universal catastrophe. The inhabitants of a civilization this far advanced would most likely be cyborgs or fully artificial. The capabilities of a society that could harness such copious amounts of energy would be astounding. This civilization could possibly even create their own stars, merge stars or capture energy from gamma rays and quasars.
Galactic civilizations would likely be reaching a point, if it hadn’t already, where black holes at the center of galaxies would be considered as a potential resource. After draining the energy of billions of stars, these civilizations acting almost like black holes themselves, would potentially tap into energy released by supermassive singularities.
This is where Kardashev’s scale ends. It’s hard enough to perceive of a civilization capable of harnessing the luminosity of an entire galaxy. However, some have continued the extent of his scale to conceive of grander civilizations that sci-fi has rarely, if ever, delved into.
Hence the name, these civilizations would span the entirety of a universe. While galactic civilizations seem farfetched, this level seems pretty abstract. The capabilities of this culture could be within the purview of manipulating space-time, or slowing entropy to immortalize themselves. These beings could likely harness dark energy and potentially live at the event horizon of a black hole.
If there are multiple universes, there could exist beings that have the ability to travel between them. These beings would have a comprehension of different levels of matter, physics and space-time than we could ever comprehend, unless of course we reach their hypothetical level in billions of years.
Type 6 Civilization…
Where does it end? Beings in this civilization would have the ability to create multiple universes, a multiverse. Those who are not adamantly atheist might refer to a being like this as God, but beyond the original Kardashev scale all these civilizations are pretty godlike.
Some physicists currently rank us at about a 0.73 on the scale with the likelihood of advancement to level 1 occurring within 100-200 years. One of the biggest hurdles that a civilization needs to progress on Kardashev’s scale is to create a Dyson Sphere or some equivalent. . While a structure of this magnitude is hard to conceive, he imagined its precursor to consist of a web of satellites. With NASA sending a probe closer to the sun than ever before, we are inching closer to a day when a Dyson Sphere or some iteration might be feasible and we start our ascent to the next level on Kardashev’s scale.