Let’s be completely honest, we have our fair share of seemingly unfixable problems on planet Earth (disease, poverty, war, and environmental destruction). However, we also have a lot of things going for us (artificial intelligence, CRISPR genome editing, and the space programs). With such a coupling of unimaginable destruction and brilliant scientific advancements, how can we measure our status as a civilization?
One way we can answer this question is to create a system that will allow us to measure humanity’s current technological abilities against the hypothetical technological possibilities. The most famous approach of conducting such a measurement is the Kardashev Scale.
History & Explanation:
In 1964, Russian astrophysicist Nicolai Kardashev came up with the idea that a civilization’s status is primarily dependent upon energy and technology. Kardashev theorized that the amount of energy a civilization is able to produce and manipulate runs parallel to that society’s level of technology. Basically, the more energy a civilization can harness, the more scientifically and technologically advanced they are. Originally, Kardashev’s Scale only had three different designations (types 1-3), but in recent years, scientists have expanded it to include six (types 0, 4, and 5).
Type 0: Subglobal Culture
This type of civilization is one that has not yet been able to harness all the energy of its home planet. In other words, this culture extracts most of its energy and materials from crude, organic-based sources such as wood and oil. Any rockets used by such a civilization, as a result, would most likely depend on chemical propulsion, making space travel painfully slow. In addition, this society is not able to leave their home planet, but are making steady progress towards doing so. Unfortunately, this is about where humanity stands currently (70% of the way towards Type 1).
Type I: Planetary Culture
This type of civilization is one that has the ability to extract all the energy of its home planet. In other words, this culture utilizes all the energy that reaches the planet (solar) and all the energy it can produce (wind, hydro, thermal, etc). Interplanetary travel between planets becomes easier, although still limited. On top of this, a planetary civilization should be able to control every aspect of its planet: volcanoes, oceans, climate, etc. Hopefully( if we don’t kill ourselves or our planet in the near future) humanity will reach this stage in 100-200 years.
Type II: Stellar Culture
This type of civilization is one that is able to harness all the energy of its star. One theorized way to do so is to build a megastructure called the Dyson Sphere around the sun, which would completely enclose the star and capture all of its energy, and then transfer it to the Type II civilization for use. This, of course, would require amazing technology to build, which we probably can’t even fathom right now. So, what would a civilization with literally the power of the sun be able to do? Well, nothing known to science could wipe them out, and they can probably travel between solar systems, and possibly, galaxies. Humanity will reach this stage in 1000-2000 years.
Type III: Galactic Culture
This type of civilization is one that has the ability to harness all the energy output of a galaxy. They have pretty much colonized the entire galaxy, extracting energy from billions of stars through Dyson Spheres, traveling from solar system to solar system, and populating countless worlds. The only problem they would have to face is travel time (since light-speed travel is not possible according to the laws of physics), unless the civilization either developed some form of warp drive or mastered the use of wormholes. At this point, humans themselves will have probably ceased to exist, becoming some form of biological cybernetic beings (if we have not yet been replaced by A.I and robots). Humanity will reach this stage in 100,000 to 1 million years.
Type IV: Universal Culture
This type of civilization is one that is able to extract all the energy from the universe. They colonized all the galaxies, all the stars, and all the planets in the universe. This society would have the power of billion trillion suns at their disposal, and therefore, also have technology that defies the laws of physics as they please. For example, they might be able to change the structure of space-time or slow down entropy, prolonging the life of the universe. Humanity will most likely never reach this point because, according to Kardashev, a Type IV civilization would be “too advanced.”
Type V: Multiverse Culture
This type of civilization has surpassed their universe of origin and has gained access to the infinite multiverse. As such, they harness all the energy of innumerable universes. Beings of this civilization have transcended God and can manipulate literally everything as they see fit. Who knows what else they could be capable of?