Kardashev Scale: How do we define an advanced civilization?

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Much more details at the end of the article.


About 1.7 million years ago, our ancestors made the first fundamental discovery - fire. Then they spread throughout the globe and created our civilization. In the past few centuries, the industrial revolution and efficient transport methods have changed the lifestyle of people and the geopolitical scenario of the world. The internet revolution of the late 90's and 2000's has brought the world on the tip of our hands. Humans have come a long way. Don't you feel a little sense of accomplishment? Aren't we advanced enough?

What is Kardashev Scale?

The Kardashev Scale is a suppositional method of measuring a civilization's technological prowess.

First proposed by Nikolai Kardashev ( a Soviet astrophysicist) in 'Transmission Of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations', it originally talked about three types of civilizations based on the amount of energy they can harness on a cosmic scale.

TYPE 1: This Civilization can utilize all the resources of its home planet as well as the starlight received from the home star on the planet and hence is called a planetary civilization. This kind of civilization can access all the renewable energy forms available and hence doesnt suffer from any kind of energy crisis (humanity gets ruled out here). A civilization of this type should be able to control natural calamities like earthquakes and volcanoes. For such civilization, nuclear fusion and an energy derivation system by matter annihilation (fusing a particle matter with its anti-matter) would be run of the mill. Mankind seems to be closest to this level.

(CERN has been working on anti-matter systems for 2 decades now)
(CERN has been working on anti-matter systems for 2 decades now)

TYPE 2: A civilization of this level should be able to harness the entire energy of its home star (not just starlight received at the home planet) and also access all the resources of its star system (solar system in our case). Such a civilization can be called a stellar civilization. One of the proposed structures to harness all the energy of a star is the DYSON SPHERE. It is a hypothetical megastructure which supposedly encapsulates the star to harness its entire energy and efficiently transports it to the home planet. ( Dyson Sphere is good enough to have a special article dedicated to it).

(An illustration of the DYSON SPHERE Image Courtesy: Media.com)
(An illustration of the DYSON SPHERE Image Courtesy: Media.com)

This civilization would have a complete control over its home star and might also be able to remove a substantial part of it in a controlled manner for energy derivation purposes (star lifting). The possibilities are endless, some reckon that humanity at this stage might become a digitalized civilization (where the consciousness of all the people can be uploaded on a large computer running on a Dyson Sphere). A civilization of this type would have eliminated the threat of extinction as in the way the civilization does have enough energy and power output to evaporate potential asteroids flying towards them. If the threat is bigger, the civilization can move its entire star system out of the way by using complicated hypothetical machines like stellar engines. By colonization of the moon and mars, humanity can begin its journey to be labeled as a type 2 civilization.

(An illustration of STELLAR ENGINE Image courtesy: Kurzgesagt)
(An illustration of STELLAR ENGINE Image courtesy: Kurzgesagt)

TYPE 3: A type 3 civilization is expected to span over an entire galaxy. Hence, it is also called a galactic civilization. It would have colonized all the resourceful star systems in its galaxy and established a strong network between them. A Type 3 civilization must have found a way to travel at a speed greater than the speed of light through a working warp drive (just like in Star trek), or could have mastered wormhole teleportation.But as of current human understanding of physics, interstellar travel is not possible to the extent needed by this civilization.The understanding of physics and other sciences this civilization might have is beyond human contemplation right now. Possible technological systems include a black hole bomb ( a super mega structure able to harness the entire photonic energy radiated by a black hole). In case of humans, this type of technological advancement might be achieved by a descendant species which wouldn't be anything like us. Some suggest that evolution and technological singularity might lead to the birth of cybernetic beings (a weird mixture of humans and robots). Such beings might look down upon us the way we look down at the apes.

(Black hole bomb: a mega mirror machine encapsulating a black hole Image courtesy: Kurzgesagt)
(Black hole bomb: a mega mirror machine encapsulating a black hole Image courtesy: Kurzgesagt)

Where do we stand?

Currently we are at type 0. Carl Sagan said that on a numerical scale, we should be on a 0.7. Michio Kaku, a physicist, reckons that it might take 100-200 years for us to reach type 1, thousands of years for type 2 and millions for type 3.

Type 4 and type 5?

Nikolai Kardashev believed that considering a level of technological advancement above a type 3 would nearly be impossible , hence he didnt go beyond. But can there be extensions ?

A type 4 civilization can be thought to have control over its local universe, be able to harness its entire energy and traverse at a speed greater than the expansion of space. It would be a shame to compare the prowess of such a species with the methods talked about earlier. Michio Kaku likes to think that such 'extragalactic' beings might be able to utilize dark matter and energy.

Though having no place in the original scale, a type 5 civilization can be considered as something far far away, a hypothetical notion that can never be encapsulated by our imagination. Some say that a type 5 civilization might be the controller of the multiverse (if it exists). If anything of this stature exists, it's difficult to differentiate it from our notion of GOD.

Can there be other civilizations more advanced than us?

Studying the IR radiations, it can be concluded that a type 3 and above civilization does not exist in our local neighbourhood. Though some years ago, SETI reported some strange signals that suggested the presence of a Dyson Swarm (a proposed form of Dyson Sphere) in a nearby galaxy, those reports were soon rubbished. Probably a civilization that advanced cannot exist or has not come up yet. Probably we are one of the first life forms in the entire universe and we are meant to be the first advanced civilization. Or probably they do exist and we are controlled by one.

We can never know. For now we can take care of our tiny blue planet, prevent unnecessary wars, live with peace, help each other, learn from the past, and dream of the future.

PS: Now you might have a different perspective to the question asked at the starting of this blog, "Are we advanced enough ?"