Table of Contents
The infographic from the very beginning of the post came from Futurism: What is the Kardashev Scale? and is a great introduction to this topic.
Also, as a major bonus I received from the process of researching this article, I found out about the amazing YouTube channel called Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur. Check it out if your want your mind blown. I have links to some of his videos in my article here. That channel is the most amazing thing I have found since I discovered:
I. The Kardashev Scale Basics
A. About Nikolai Kardashev
First, let me introduce you to Nikolai Kardashev, the creator of the Kardashev Scale.
Nikolai Kardashev, born 1932 April 25, is a Russian astrophysicist, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, and is the deputy director of the Astro Space Center (Russia) of PN Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
Also, more germane to this post, he is a radio astronomer and SETI theorist.
B. About The Kardashev Scale
I am going to introduce you to an interesting concept proposed by Nikolai Kardashev called the Kardashev Scale. Here is a quote from the science fiction and fantasy writer Veronica Sicoe which has a great introduction to this:
In 1964, Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev figured that civilizations can be categorized by the total amount of energy available to them. He defined three levels of civilizations based on their capacity to harness and use power. These have since been expanded by another four (in light of the increasingly wild speculations spawned by marrying mathematics and theoretical physics).
The Kardashev Scale, as it is called, now lists 7 levels of civilizations based on their power consumption, and implicitly on their technological advancement and extension.
The Kardashev Scale was proposed by Nikolai in his 1964 paper titled The Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations (5 pages long) where he postulated that correlating a civilization’s technological advancement and population growth with the amount of energy they can harvest and consume. Knowing this helps us create a theory on how we could search for alien civilizations by their technological signatures derived from their potential methods of energy harvesting and usage.
The amount of energy a civilization uses will increase proportionally with population growth, but will also decrease based on technological advancements and efficiencies. Although, the actual trend for energy consumption for a civilization will be exponential due to the energy demands based on rapid population growth and a much, much more massive requirement for energy due to technological advancements such as: factories, computers, automation, AI, interstellar travel, planet harvesting, terraforming, stellar biomes, Faster Than Light (FTL) travel and communication, and other such powerful and energy hungry technologies.
II. Show Me the Kardashev Scale
A. The Kardashev Scale
As various scientists, mathematicians, and academic organizations talk about and present the Kardashev Scale, the names for the various levels and their definitions and examples differ, especially once you get to Level 4 and beyond – such as: at what level time and space mastery sits – so I will try to distill them here for clarity, at least as far as I understand them and to what makes sense to me.
In the table below are the full 7 levels (0 to 6) of the expanded Kardashev Scale with Carl Sagan’s modifications to the energy numbers which allows for better scaling. The y-axis on the left gives the levels of the scale running 0 to 6. The top x-axis lists the traits of the level which are as follows: designation with ‘K’ referring to Kardashev Level, relative energy harvesting scale, able to harnesses the energy of, Earth-centric examples, and approximate energy usage in watts.
|Level||Desig||Scale||Harness energy of…||Example||Energy|
|0||K0||Sub-Global||less than the entire planet||Earth||106w|
|I||K1||Planetary||an entire planet||Earth||1016w|
|II||K2||Interplanetary||a solar system||our solar system||1026w|
|IV||K4||Universal||all the galaxies||all of known existence||1045w|
|V||K5||Multiversal||parallel universes and all of time and space|
|VI||K6||Omega||outside of time and space|
These energy calculations are based on mathematical and theoretical approximations and calculations for:
- K0: how much energy a planet has access to based on planetary resources such as fossil fuels, solar, wind, hydro, etc
- K1: how much energy a star produces indirectly and could be tapped for energy
- K2: how much energy a star produces and can be directly and could be tapped for energy
- K3: how many stars in a galaxy and how much energy they produce
- K4: how many galaxies in a universe and how much energy they produce
- K5: how much energy available in a universe
B. Logarithmic Scale
Keep in mind, the scale for energy is logarithmic, and is NOT linear in nature, because we are dealing with exponents. As in 1, 2, 3 (linear) verses 1, 10, 100 (logarithmic). See that decimal point move?
Due to the non-linear scale, a K2 civilization does NOT have twice as much or even ten times as much energy as a K1. It has 1010 more energy or 10,000,000,000 (10 billion) times the energy. The same goes for each progressive level as compared to the level before it (10 billion times the energy of the previous level).
As an example, a K1 civilization would have access to 1010 (10,000,000,000) megawatts (or 10 billion megawatts). Each level beyond that would have 10 billion times the energy in megawatts too. A K2 civilization would have the energy production capacity of 1020 (100,000,000,000,000,000,000) megawatts (or 100 pentillion megawatts).
As another way to try to show you the immense scale involved here, the R. E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in New York, which is the smallest nuclear power plant in the United States, has one reactor with an electricity generating capacity of 582 megawatts for one day. A full year of energy production is about 212,430 megawatts. It would take 47,000 of those reactor-years worth of energy to equal the amount of energy that the K2 has more than an entire K1 civilization.
C. Relative Logarithmic Energy Scale
If you want to see how this logarithmic scale might look with other sources of energy here is a neat infographic:
Wikipedia also has a useful article which lists similar statistics: Orders of Magnitude for Energy (Wikipedia).
D. Kardashev Scale Also Useful for Population Approximations
Beyond K0 this logarithmic scale might also be useful for approximating human population for each level by just dropping the 6 from the exponent with each progressive level would have 10 billion times the population as the level before it. This exponential growth would be based upon and would require technological advancements and efficiencies to support such a massive population.
As an example:
- A K1 Planetary Civilization (where we are currently headed) might have a population near 1010 (10,000,000,000) people (or 10 billion people).
- A K2 Interstellar Civilization might have a population of 1020 (100,000,000,000,000,000,000) people (or 100 pentillion people).
E. Micro-Dimensional Mastery Extension of the Kardashev Scale
The following text talking about the micro-scale extension to the Kardashev Scale was pulled from the Medium article titled “We’re a Type Zero Civilization”:
The micro-dimensional mastery extension to the Kardashev scale was proposed by John D. Barrow, a scientist who decided to take civilization ranking in the opposite direction, choosing instead to base his scale on how small a people’s control could reach. This scale is outlined differently:
Micro-scale Extension to the Kardashev Scale Level Description Type I-minus: controlling matter at the observable level, that is, being to manipulate things we can see and touch. Type II-minus: controlling genes Type III-minus: controlling molecules Type IV-minus: controlling atoms Type V-minus: controlling protons Type VI-minus: controlling elementary particles, like quarks Type Omega-minus: controlling fundamental elements of spacetime
F. Videos Explaining the Kardashev Scale
Below are some great videos which will explain the Kardashev scale so you can get a better handle on it:
1. Basic Videos
The first video is 11.9 minutes long by Kurzgesagt titled What Do Aliens Look Like? The Kardashev Scale:
b. Answers With Joe
Then there is a video by Answers with Joe is about 6.3 minutes long:
This following video by Aperture is 8.5 minutes long and is a great introduction to this idea:
d. Frasier Cain
This next video by Fraser Cain is 6.5 minutes long and is another great introduction to this concept:
Here is a brand new 17:08 video What if We Become a Type 7 Civilization? (Riddle.com, Oct 2022). Be aware this one plays on the fear of alien invasion trope a bit too much, but it still has goo coverage. Towards the end, they are also quite wrong about nuclear power too.
2. More Technical Videos
The following 35 minute video by Isaac Arthur is a much more detailed and technical discussion of this topic:
Here is another video by Isaac Arthur titled Becoming a Kardashev-1 Post-Scarcity Civilization which is ~24 minutes long:
- Kardashev Scale (Wikipedia)
- A Brief Explanation of the Kardashev Scale: How Far Can Humanity Really Advance? (Futurism)
- The Kardashev Scale (Types 0 – VI) [Veronica Sicoe]
- 7 Types of Advanced Cosmic Civilizations (Big Think)
- We’re a Type Zero Civilization (Medium)
- Abusing the Kardashev Scale for Fun and Profit (TV Tropes)
III. Kardeshev’s Levels of Civilizations in More Detail
Here are some Notes About Rating Civilizations before we begin.
A. Technological Access
The Kardashev Scale is primarily about energy access, although, at the lower levels it does assume access to certain technology required to meet the energy requirements for that level such as:
- Fusion for K1
- Dyson Tech for K2
A civilization of a given level will also already be working towards technology for the next level so the technological lines between levels are fairly blurred, which will be quite obvious when we are looking at rating lower levels on the scale.
B. Lower Levels (0-3)
Because we have access to more information about lower levels of real and fictional (what I will call near science fiction) civilizations, such as our own and ones such as the Star Trek and Star Wars where there are vast amounts of material written, these ratings will be based mostly on energy access.
C. Higher Levels (4-6)
Once we get beyond the Lower Levels of the scale (0-3) and far beyond Humanity’s near technological horizon, we are looking at rating civilizations that are truly in the realm of science fiction to what I will call far science fiction. Here, technological access will be the primary guide for rating.
0. Level 0 – Sub-Global Civilization
A K0 Sub-Global Civilization relies on fossil fuels (non-sustainable and burnable sources of energy) and other such harmful methods of energy production, and has not yet completely shifted to sustainable or highly efficient energy sources.
In 1973, Carl Sagan estimated the Earth and Humanity as a whole is a K 0.72 Civilization as a Sub-Global Civilization.
I. Level 1 – Planetary Civilization
A K1 Planetary Civilization will have achieved all of their energy needs from sustainable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, and so on without destroying their home planet. This also tends to include or even require generating energy from fusion reactors in order to create enough energy to fully qualify for this level.
This civilization will also have control over their weather, tectonics, and other natural processes. This will also require a highly efficient and comprehensive recycling process so as to not have civilization collapse due rampant waste and pollution or through running out of resources. They are also mostly limited to their home planet, but have definitely begun to extend their tenuous reach into their solar system.
Fictional Civilization Examples:
- K1.1 to K1.2: Terraformed all planets in solar system
- K1.3: Star Trek: Federation of Planets
- K1.7: The Empire from Asimov’s Foundation Series
- K1.6 to K1.8: Star Wars: Galactic Empire
I know most of you may be surprised at how low these fictional civilizations are rated. I know I was. What you will find as the primary limiter for the above examples is that they have not implemented Dyson or similar technology to completely harness a star’s energy, and, therefore, have a severe limit on the energy production which is required to catapult them to a full K2 Civilization.
II. Level 2 – Interstellar Civilization
A. About a K2 Civilization
A K2 Civilization has achieved interstellar flight and is able to travel, habitate, and harvest resources from the other planets and stellar objects (such as asteroids, moons, and gas clouds) within their solar system. They are also able to completely harvest the power from their system’s star through the building of and potentially inhabiting megastructures such as a Dyson Sphere or a Dyson Swarm. Watch this in depth video to find out more about Dyson megastructures:
There is also this short video:
B. How to Evolve to a K2 Civilization?
As an example of a method to progress to K2, Dr. Stuart Armstrong created a plan to harvest Mercury in order to create a Dyson Swarm by using the iron and oxygen present there to create polished hematite mirrors to focus the sun’s energy into concentrated solar collectors and then beam the energy somewhere using lasers. Here are some links talking about this:
- How to Build a Dyson Sphere – The Ultimate Megastructure (Kurzgesagt)
- Should We Build a Dyson Sphere? (PBS)
- How to Build a Dyson Swarm (Real Clear Science)
C. Tech Possibilities at This Level
1. Neat Technological Possibility: Shkadov Thruster
A civilization that is able to build a form of a Dyson might also be able to move a star and solar system through the use of a stellar engine such as a Shkadov Thruster. This also might be a way to pull entire solar systems from being lost due to the increasing expansion of the universe,
Check out the following links for more information on this mind-boggling potential:
- Megastructures 8: Shkadov Thrusters (Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur)
- The Shkadov Thruster, or: How to Move an Entire Solar System (Popular Mechanics)
2. Neat Technological Possibility: O’Neill Cylinders
An O’Neill Cylinder is an example of one of those methods of stellar colonization which would require an incredible amount of energy and resources to build and to sustain which you may start to find at this level of advancement.
Here are some links talking about these technological marvels:
- O’Neill Cylinders (Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur)
- O’Neill Cylinder (Wikipedia)
- Space Colony Form Factors, Part 2: O’Neill Cylinders (Core 77)
Technology such as this may be the primary method of colonization throughout the universe due to reduced resource requirements and efficiency, as compared to terraforming planets. Consider the possibility of tearing apart planets in order to create swarms of O’Neill Cylinders surrounding a system’s star.
III. Level 3 – Galactic Civilization
A. About a K3 Civilization
A K3 Galactic Civilization would not necessarily be much different than a K2 Civilization, just larger in scope – not just one solar system, but all of the solar systems in their home galaxy. As a civilization they are able to travel, colonize, consume, and modify their galaxy at will. Keep in mind that a K3 Civilization would not necessarily have just colonized every single planet they encounter because many of those planets would have been consumed for resources due to the massive resource requirements for Dyson technologies and other advanced technologies such as O’Neill Spheres. Just colonized planets would end up with something more akin to a basic K2 Civilization
From achieving K2 status they would already have the technology required to harvest the stars and planets. The primary existing technological requirement here, definitive of K3, is the prevalence of Dyson related technologies encompassing most of the stars in their galaxy. Although, by this point, they may have also developed more ultra-efficient methods of energy production such as: antimatter, using black holes, quasars, and other highly energetic stellar objects.
The only advanced technology needed for this level would be the creation of at least a crude form of Faster Than Light (FTL) (superluminal) travel such as warp drives or wormholes which would enable them to travel to all of the solar systems within their galaxy. To be truly feasible and to be truly classified as a K3 Civilization, this would also require some sort of FTL communication too, otherwise you just have a bunch of isolated K2 civilizations.
B. How to Evolve to a K3 Civilization?
As an example of a potential method of progressing to this level, a K2 Civilization could use a Dyson Swarm to create Kugeblitzes (artificial miniature black holes) to create 100% efficient power, which may very well power the above mentioned O’Neill Cylinder. Learn more about Kugelblitzes in the link below:
C. Neat Technological Possibility: Klemperer Rosette
Here is a concept that will blow your mind: A Klemperer Rosette (or Mega-Dyson Sun Swarm) which is a ring of smaller artificially created stars orbiting their much larger system’s main star, each with their own planetary system!!
- Making Stars (Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur) – basic discussion starts at about 25 minutes with the more specific discussion near 28 minutes.
- Klemperer Rosette (Wikipedia)
IV. Level 4 – Universal Civilization
A. About a K4 Civilization
A K4 Universal Civilization would be able to travel to and harness the power within ALL of the galaxies of their universe and would be able to bend space-time. They should also be able to harness energy from more exotic sources like Dark Energy, supermassive black holes, quasars, or gamma ray bursts.
An example of a late stage K4 Civilization would be somewhere near the Gallifreyan Time Lords from Doctor Who, who do have limited extra-universal and extra-dimensional access.
B. Galaxies in the Universe?
Scientists estimate that there are more than 120 billion galaxies in the observable universe. There also may be infinitely more universes that are not observable to us due to the increasing rate of expansion of the universe and due to the limits of our current technology. At about 6:40 in the following video, Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about just this fact and how it keeps him up at night: The Mystery That Keeps Neil deGrasse Tyson Up At Night (The Colbert Show).
C. Potentially Hard to Detect a K4+ Civilization?
A rampant K4 or greater civilization might be very difficult to detect because of the efficiency of their energy sources or because they have devoured all they encounter (galaxies, stars, planets, and other stellar objects) for energy turning the solar systems and galaxies dark. Some postulate that the Great Void (or Bootes void) which is 330 million light years in diameter and should contain at least 2,000 galaxies, but only contains 3% of the galaxies (60) that it should. Some postulate that it might be caused by an advanced civilization which has consumed or encased their systems’ stars in a megastructure such as a Dyson Sphere.
- Bootes Void (Wikipedia)
- The Bootes Void: A Giant Hole in the Universe (Answers with Joe)
- Behold the Bootes Void, the Spookiest Place in the Cosmos (Gizmodo)
V. Level 5 – Multiversal Civilization
K5 Multiversal Civilizations are definitely the realm of science fiction being able to access and manipulate parallel dimensions or universes. They would also be able to access space and time at will.
VI. Level 6 – Omega Civilization
A K6 Omega Civilization would exist beyond space and time as we know it, and would essentially be omniscient and omnipotent gods capable of creating and destroying space, time, and universes at their whim.
An example of A K6 Civilization might the the Q Continuum from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Q (Star Trek) (Wikipedia)
A. Technological Potential for Civilization Advancement
No matter which version or explanation of the Kardashev Scale you prefer, through understanding it you will begin to see the path that Humanity could pursue in order to advance ourselves into the future, as well as see what amazing things are possible if we survive long enough to get there. Take a look at the Science and Futurism channel with Isaac Arthur to really supercharge your mind as to what is really possible for Humanity to achieve even with today’s technology.
Today we have the knowledge, technology, and resources to:
- completely shift to sustainable technology in under a decade
- build arcologies (Isaac Arthur) as well as hyper-efficient, intelligent, and sustainable cities
- build orbital rings and space elevators (Isaac Arthur) to make it easier for all of Humanity to access space
- build a Dyson Swarm (Isaac Arthur)
We are also coming close to unlocking fusion in the next few decades. With the appropriate access to global resources and global cooperation could we unlock this and the other technologies faster? So, why have we not done these in the past? Why are we NOT drenched in global cooperation to unlock these for ALL of Humanity now?
Fostering the global cooperation needed to work towards unlocking that Global Achievement *ding* of becoming a K1 Civilization will be key to the survival of our species.
B. Human Potential for Civilization Advancement
Will Humanity ever unlock that Global Achievement of a becoming a K1 Civilization? *ding*
With the current state of horrors that Humanity inflicts upon itself and the environment being uncovered each and every single day, I do not think Humanity is capable of surviving long enough to achieve full K1 Level because the only drive for business is profit no matter the cost to Humanity and Natural World. With competition, corporate corruption, political corruption, corporate ownership of our government, and rabid nationalism holding Humanity back it will be hard to get there without radical, radical change to Humanity’s social, economic, and political structures. If you want to read more about the source of this corruption, then read this post: Tension within Methods of Exchange.
Until we have successfully shed the chains of the corruption of monetary systems which requires competition and commodifying everything (natural resources and every single life including: plants, animals, insects, and even humans) we shall be plagued with war, poverty, and pollution which has resulted in Climate Change which will end up destroying us before we have the chance to evolve to the point where we could make that awe inspiring transition.
Imagine how much technology has been hidden by corporations and even governments to protect corporate profit and interests, especially the fossil fuel industry:
- How about Henry Ford’s hemp car being from the 1940’s?
- How about the hidden works of the brilliant Nikola Tesla?
- How about when the passive solar-thermal panels were removed from the White House in 1981?
- We have known about Climate Change since the very early 1800’s and the fossil fuel industry has actively destroyed Climate Change science and research even going so far to the hide and destroy their own research. which supports the existence of climate change.
- How about the pharmaceutical industry’s having lobbied and effectively had hemp itself and its research outlawed for many, many decades? How much has this cost Humanity through denying us this powerful medicinal herb?
How many technological advancements have we been denied so that a corporation will not lose profit? How much further ahead could we be if this was not how our broken world worked? How many diseases could be cured? How many different forms of sustainable energy and food would we have? How many decades of peace and real progress have we lost?
Humanity will be hard-pressed to advance and evolve to achieve the needed amazing technological feats and societal and environmental changes because there is no money to be made in doing good for Humanity, stopping war, or curing diseases – only billions of dollars to be lost by industries due to lost customers.
C. Fermi Paradox and Civilization Self-Destruction
Perhaps civilization self-destruction due to irresponsible technological advancement resulting in ecocide or envirocide, similar to what Humanity is in the violent and ignorant throws of, is a fate that other alien civilizations have reached in a similar stage of development. This is something that the Fermi Paradox considers as a possibility as to why we have not detected other alien civilizations – they destroyed themselves. We may just end up as another civilization that proves that possibility within the Fermi Paradox right. =(
Learn more about the Fermi Paradox:
- Fermi Paradox (Wikipedia)
- The Fermi Paradox – Where Are All The Aliens? (Part 1) Kurzgesagt (YouTube)
- The Fermi Paradox – Solutions and Ideas – Where Are All The Aliens? (Part 2) Kurzgesagt (YouTube)
- Fermi Paradox Playlist (Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur)
- Fermi Paradox Great Filters Playlist (Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur)
D. Salvation of the Human Civilization Through a Resource Based Economy
In order for Humanity to survive we need to evolve beyond the archaic and regressive horrors of monetary systems, competition, and nationalism towards the eco-humanistic socioeconomic system of a Resource Based Economy (RBE) so that we may be to be able to efficiently and equitably share and manage the resources of Earth, as well as our solar system’s resources for the benefit of ALL of Humanity, and so we can work towards and survive to be able achieve K1 status and beyond.
If you do not know what a Resource Based Economy is then please read my post The Cancer of Capitalism and all of my related posts on this topic (which are linked to from there) to understand why we desperately need to embrace this powerful new socioeconomic model in order to save humanity from inevitable extinction.