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  • Nicolas Huber

The Kardashev Scale – How advanced are we really?

By: Nicolas Huber 


Have you ever wondered how much more technologically advanced our civilization can get? Luckily for you, a Soviet astronomer by the name of Nikolai Kardashev asked himself the same question. He invented the Kardashev Scale. 

But who was he? Nikolay Semyonovich Kardashev was born on the 25th of April 1932 in Moscow into a family of professional revolutionaries involved with the Bolshevik Party, the founding party of the Soviet Union. He lost his father to a gunshot wound during the Great Purge of 1937 and 1938 and his mother was arrested around the same time. He wouldn't regain contact with his mother until 1956, after he had graduated from the Moscow State University Astronomy division of the Mechanics and Mathematics Department. In 1964, he proposed the Kardashev Scale, the idea of measuring the technological advancement of a civilization, depending on how much energy it’s able to use. Later, he joined the Space Research Institute (IKI) of the USSR Academy of Sciences 1967 and was promoted to deputy director 10 years later. Kardashev died on the 3rd of August 2019. 

As previously mentioned, the Kardashev Scale gives the idea of measuring the technological advancements of a civilization, depending on how much energy it’s able to use. It was first outlined at the 1964 Byurakan conference in Armenia, classifying civilizations into 3 different types. The technological advancements made by the civilizations in these three types of civilization are exponential, so it’s harder to go from type 2 to 3, than from 1 to 2. 

A type 1 Civilization is able to harness and use all the energy available on its planet. For example, us being able to efficiently use the energy from the wind, sun, resources or even earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. 

A type 2 Civilization is able to harness and use the energy of a star. This would most likely be done using a Dyson sphere, a megastructure encompassing an entire star to harness its power output. Our version of this is building a Dyson sphere around the sun and using its energy. 

A type 3 Civilization is able to harness and use all the energy output by its galaxy, including all planets, stars and black holes. In our case, this would mean harnessing all of the energy of each of the planets, building Dyson spheres around every star, and building other megastructures to harness the power output of every black hole in the entire Milky Way galaxy.  

So where are we on this scale? It is believed we are at around 0.72-0.73. As the Kardashev scale is very big, we need to increase our energy output by 26% just to move up by 0.01. Many different astronomers and physicists predict when we’ll finally break into a type 1 civilization. Carl Sagan for instance, believes that we’ll make it around the year 2100, while Richard Wilson believes that we’ll only be a type 1 civilization by the year 3000. Philp T. Metzger even believes that we’ve type 1, but face an energy challenge, as non-sustainable energy sources are depleting, and renewable energy sources won't keep up with the demand that humans create today.  

The scale didn't come without its critics, though. Kardashev's scale was created amid the cold war, where energy had supreme value. Guillermo A. Lemarchand, a physicist at the University of Buenos Aires thinks along other points, that energy consumption per capita will look a lot more like a logistic curve, where the consumption will eventually flatline.  

No matter where you think we are on the scale, or if you even think it’s credible, it’s still fun to think about where society will end up in the near, or far future.  





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