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Kardashev scale

The Kardashev scale is a general method of classifying how technologically advanced a civilization is, first proposed in 1964 by the Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev. It has three categories, based on the amount of usable energy a civilization has at its disposal and increasing logarithmically:

  • Type I - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available on a single planet, approximately 1016 W (given the Solar constant for Earth, this value for Earth exceeds 1.74×1017 W).
  • Type II - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single star, approximately 1026 W (the Sun outputs approximately 3.86×1026 W).
  • Type III - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single galaxy, approximately 1036 W.

All such civilizations are purely hypothetical at this point. However, the Kardashev scale is of use to SETI researchers, science fiction authors, and futurists as a theoretical framework.


Usage and examples

Human civilization is currently somewhere below Type I, as it is able to harness only a portion of the energy that is available on Earth. The current state of human civilization has been unofficially named Type 0. Although intermediate values were not discussed in Kardashev's original proposal, Carl Sagan attempted to extrapolate and calculated humanity's current civilization to be 0.7. He used a power output of ~10TW and the formula

K = \frac{\log_{10}{W}-6} {10}

where K is a civilization's Kardashev rating and W is its power output in watts.

A possible contender for the advancement to a Type I civilization is to begin the heavy use of ocean thermal energy conversion, wind turbines and tidal power to obtain the energy received by Earth's oceans from the Sun. However there is no known way to successfully utilise the full potential of Earth's energy production without complete coating of the surface with man made structures. In the near and medium future, this is an impossibility given humans' current lifestyle.

A hypothetical Type II civilization might employ a Dyson sphere or other similar construct in order to utilize all of the energy output by a star, or perhaps more exotic means such as feeding stellar mass into a black hole to generate usable energy. A Type III civilization might use the same techniques employed by a Type II civilization, applied to all of the stars of a galaxy individually, or perhaps might use other mechanisms not yet proposed.

A common and recognisable example of a fictional civilization capable of entering a Type III level are Star Trek's Borg who utilise energy on a massive scale, being in between Type II and Type III. One of the proposed uses of such energy sources is star lifting, by which stars may be mined for raw materials.

Possible timeline

Humanities current history indicates a timeline roughly shown here. These values are approximate, and predictions are from what seems most likely given current trends in research.

Type 0 Development of Civilization
0.01 Discovery of Fire 0.1 Stone tools 0.25 Roman Civilization 0.5 Industrial Revolution 0.6 1891 to 1938 technological expansion 0.7 Nuclear Weapons and Fission power 0.8 Late 20th Century, Early 21st Century 0.9 Fusion power, Space elevators, the creation of an Ecumenopolis Type 0 to Type I transition, Civilization self-destructs or achieves a Technological singularity.
\Longrightarrow Increasing levels of technology, Up to 0.5, increasing levels of fragmentation, increasing energy usage, increasing area of habitation
\Longleftarrow After 0.5, Decreasing levels of fragmentation

Weakness by supposition?

It has been argued that, because we cannot understand advanced civilizations, we cannot predict their behavior; thus, Kardashev's visualization may not reflect what will actually occur for an advanced civilization. Theories like this are discussed at Carbon chauvinism. This central argument is found within the book Evolving the Alien: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life (A more controversial discussion can be found at Future Hi: Exotic Civilizations: Beyond Kardaschev ).

It is also possible that the unique conditions on Earth allow for specific technologies to develop which would take many times longer for a civilization not having these conditions to achieve. The list of presumably unique conditions on Earth, and of related discoveries, is quite long. Some examples:

It is possible that the conditions for the creation of hydrocarbons, coal, or natural gas would not exist on other planets. These fuels were essential for us to move past dependence upon wood and animal based energy systems. Although waterwheel, wind, and solar energy technologies existed, they were not developed further until suitable industrial techniques were found to produce better materials. These techniques consume massive amounts of energy, and therefore could not be powered by the unimproved technologies. A similar argument could be made that without fossil fuel technologies, more powerful technologies, such as nuclear reactors, could not develop.

Counter-argument: abundance of alternative sources

Human perception has a natural bias towards the known energy development paths of Human civilization. It must also be noted that during both the 1973 energy crisis and the 1979 energy crisis highly industrialized societies continued to function; many moved towards developing alternative energy technologies on a massive scale under the assumption that these could provide the energy needed to continue industrial and commercial processes should fossil fuel supplies be compromised in some critical way.

Given this development, it is possible that a society could develop without a stage where fossil fuel based energy production occurs. This version of Buckminster Fuller's argument on Current solar income conforms with Paul Hawken's idea of restorative economy, stating that fossil fuel based energy production is not essential nor desirable given the effects and alternatives. Also, it must be noted that the principles behind the fuel cell were discovered by Christian Friedrich Schönbein in 1838, and were applied by Sir William Grove in 1843, before there was widespread usage of fossil fuels other than coal. This raises the possibility that for alien civilizations fuel cells could be used in place of hydrocarbon fuels. It was only in the 1850s that the first industrial petroleum extraction was started by Edwin Drake.

Civilization implications

Given the fact that there must be a transition between civilization periods for each level, social upheval can be prevalent in transition, especially with the Type 0 to Type I transition, where it is speculated given current conditions on this planet, that self-destruction is highly likely. Many individuals have pointed to the faster upheaval of civilization periods as indicative of an upcoming change over to Type I civilization. It is notable, if the numbers given under Current Values are accurate, that we are accelerating towards the eventual Type 0/ Type I transition. Further discussion of this can be read at Long Term History , though the factual accuracy of this source must be taken lightly.

Contact constraints

For pre-Type I civilizations, it is costly to attempt contact with other more advanced civilizations because of the energy output needed. It has been predicted that in order to provide a reliable contact beacon of sufficient power to be noticeable to a Type II civilization, it must output such high energy levels that the cost between $1 trillion to $10 trillion in energy. The latter figure is the approximate GDP of the United States at the end of the 1990s through the beginning of the 21st Century. Further discussion can be found at Interstellar Probes: A New Approach to SETI ; the consensus is that civilization must advance high into Type I before the energy required for reliable contact with other civilizations becomes sufficiently low that it does not drain a civilization's economic resources.

Hypothetical extensions

The exponential structure of the scale allows ready extrapolation to higher types. For example:

  • Type IV: control of the energy output of a galactic supercluster; approximately 1046W.
  • Type V: energy control over the entire universe; approximately 1056W. Such a civilization approaches or surpasses the limits of speculation based on current scientific understanding, and may not be possible. Frank J. Tipler's Omega point would presumably occupy this level.

Fictional extensions

These extensions are mainly used in science fiction. They are not "official" and may differ from source to source. For example, some authors would class a "Type V" civilization as Type IV instead. Further examples of extensions of the scale follow:

  • Type VI: Energy control over multiple universes; a power level that is technically infinite
    • The civilization may have gained the ability to alter physical laws across multiple universes
    • These civilizations can escape a dying universe, and thereby become eternal; it is possible that less advanced civilizations can do so as well.
  • Type VII: Hypothetical status of a deity, able to create universes at will, using them as an energy source
    • It is interesting and important to note that as of yet, no science fiction literature characterizes beings with energy usages in the range of Type VII. Type VII though is well beyond the stage of understanding that humans can incur beyond a technological singularity.

Further discussion can be read at Just My Type: Kardashev Civilizations in SF and Beyond

Hypothetical futures

Science fiction, having extended these values has also provided guides for possible future changes associated with the fractionalized version of the Kardashev scale. A possible one is presented here§. The majority of the assumptions presented here are derived from scientific literature. Nikolai Kardashev's article On the Inevitability and the Possible Structures of Supercivilizations where he explains that with increasing energy levels, come increasing technlogy, decreasing cohesiveness, and varying likelihood of survival and contact, largely is a guide to this section. These civilizations and the changes within them are also referenced in Kardashev's papers Cosmology and Civilization and Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations . The last framework for these explanations can be found at ENERGY AND CULTURE
. This article provides a much more detailed explanation than that which exists here. It presents a theoretical way to describe trends within more advanced civilizations, along with a specific description of different civilization types. It should be noted that this section takes this article as a guide work, but not as a source, for any such derivation would be plagiarization of the specific descriptions of the different types of civilizations.

Type I

Type I Single Planetary Civilization
Early (1016 W to 1019 W) Middle (1020 W to 1023 W) Late (1024 W to 1026 W) (debateable)
near space colonization, near space industry, Asteroid mining, Planet Mining for fuels and energy First Interstellar travel, Culture Orbital Construction begins on Dyson Sphere or Alderson disk.ß, Stress caused by size of civilization, at this point it can fragment into multiple planetary civilizations—reversion from single civilization early in type 1
\Longrightarrow Increasing levels of technology, Increasing levels of space exploration, space based energy sources increase, offworld civilization centers increase, increasing energy usage, increasing area of habitation
\Longleftarrow decreasing levels of centrality, societies and civilizations increasingly are not the same, due to time differences breaking single social bonds 1

Type II

Type II Civilization extends to the entire Solar System 2
Early (1026 W to 1029 W) Middle (1030 W to 1033 W) (debateable) Late (1034 W to 1036 W) (debateable)
Dyson Sphere completion, Exploration of the nearest star systems 1
, creation of the nearest star colony
star lifting and Shkadov thurster s, Ringworld, Star Trek type civilization, Stress caused by size of civilization, at this point it can fragment into multiple solar system based civilizations—reversion to single star based civilization early, Automated Galatic colonization effort may begin 3
\Longrightarrow Increasing levels of technology, Exponential growth in stars that are colonized, centralized systems increasingly draw resources from further systems which have not had their resources harvested–– driving increased expansion
\Longleftarrow decreasing levels of centrality, increasing likelihood of fragmentation into single star systems if resources cannot be adequately transferred from central sources, resource based wars may remerge after disappearance during Type I

Type III, IV, V

Type III Colonization of the Milky Way Galaxy
Early (1036 W to 1039 W) (debateable) Middle (1040 W to 1043 W) (debateable) Late (1044 W to 1046 W) (debateable)
Star Wars type civilization Colonization of the Andromeda Galaxyƒ Highly hypothetical at this point, there are no proposals for this level.
\Longrightarrow Increasing levels of technology, centralized systems increasingly draw resources from further systems which have not had their resources harvested–– driving increased expansion
\Longleftarrow Slow growth in galaxies that are colonized due to speed limitations, making centrality impossible
Type IV Colonization of the Local Group (1046 W to 1056 W)

Can escape the universe via creating a black hole. End

Type V Colonization of Further Galaxies and the Cluster surrounding the Local Group, including the Visible universe (1056 W to 1066 W)


§ This is by no means accurate, but an informational approximation, noting that intermediate values were not discussed in Kardashev's original proposal.
ƒ For a cultural example, neither Star Wars (high canon) nor Star Trek (high canon) have civilizations that are intergalactic, but merely transgalatic.
ß If fragmentation does not occur.

See also

Current values

Given certain values for planetary power production, it is known that:

Year Energy production Fractional Kardashev
scale equivalent*
exajoules/year watts Quads§ mtoes
1900 21 6.65906×1012W 19.904156 501.6168535 0.682
1970 190 6.02486×1013W 180.0852277 4538.438198 0.778
1973§§ 257.5586907 8.16713×1013W 244.1185024 6152.18 0.791
1985 290 9.19584×1013W 274.8669265 6927.089881 0.796
1989 319 1.01154×1014W 302.3536191 7619.79887 0.800
1993 338 1.07179×1014W 320.3621419 8073.642689 0.803
1995 363 1.15107×1014W 344.0575666 8670.80561 0.806
2000 424 1.3445×1014W 401.8744029 10127.88314 0.813
2001 419.8602948 1.33137×1014W 397.95072 10029 0.812
2002§§ 434.4049018 1.37749×1014W 411.7363456 10376.42 0.814
2004** 444.7136507 1.41018×1014W 421.5071529 10622.6601 0.815
2010§§ 506.5619272 1.6063×1014W 480.128 12100 0.821
2030§§ 682.3933399 2.16386×1014W 646.784 16300 0.834


* Note that intermediate values were not discussed in Kardashev's original proposal. §mtoes: million tonnes (metric tons) of oil equivalents
Quads: 1 quadrillion BTU **the estimated values for 2004 and 2005 are the result of these calculations:
Given Population: 2000: 6079603571, 2002: 6226933918, estimate 2004: 6372797742 2001 aberrant year due to its similarity with slow growth from 1973 to 1985, which was possibly due to oil shocks and large economic recessions during those periods. There is an aberration since 2001 was a recessionary year.
{}^\left ( \frac{10376.42}{10127.88314} \right ){}^={}^\left ( 1.024539862532419 \right )\! {}^\left ( \frac{6226933918}{6079603571} \right ){}^={}^\left ( 1.024233545046057 \right )\!
{}^\left ( 1.024539862532419-1.024233545046057 \right){}^={}^\left ( 0.0003063174863620066 \right )\!
{}^\left ( \frac{6372797742}{6226933918} \right ){}^={}^\left ( 1.023424662268915 \right ) \! {}^\left ( \frac{1.023424662268915}{1.024233545046057} \right){}^={}^\left ( 0.9992102555310218 \right )\!
{}^\left ( 0.9992102555310218 \times 0.0003063174863620066 \right){}^={}^\left ( 0.0003060755738214009 \right ) \! {}^\left ( 1.023424662268915+0.0003060755738214009 \right){}^={}^\left ( 1.023730737842736 \right ) \!
{}^\left ( 1.023730737842736 \times 10376.42 \right){}^={}^\left ( 10622.66010276612 \right ) : 2004\!
Note the similarity between growth rates for energy and population. For this period of time would would be the period before massive technological expansion, where energy expansion outstrips a human growth rate that has become exponential, by exceeding an exponential rate in and of itself. It is not appropriate to use this assumption for later periods, but it can be used to assume the growth rates for the subsequent years, by accounting for the change in the energy growth as a function of the change in the rate of human growth, and thus, calculate the growth from the values known. This is done over two year periods in order to eliminate the issues caused by the special case of the year 2001. This method is a variation of the second order Rienman Sum of Intergral Calculus, where small changes in a small change are used to calculate the additive quality of those changes as a sum of the small changes that have been calculated by a previous Rienman sum. This sum is a middle sum, not left hand.
§§the estimated values for 2010 and 2003 are from the International Energy Agency along with the actual values for 2002 and 1973

Literature describing different Kardashev Types

These categorizations are not firm, and are neither complete nor absolute. Science fiction writers do not specifically write their works with Kardashev classification in mind.

Related articles

External links

  • Kardashev civilizations
  • Long Futures
  • Kaku, Michio. "How Advanced Can a Civilization Become?", Astrobiology Magazine, Apr 26, 2004
  • Kardashev, N. S. "Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations," Soviet Astronomy, 8, 217 (1964)
  • Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation, by F. J. Dyson
  • Supercivilizations as Possible Products of the Progressive Evolution of Matter
  • On the Inevitability and the Possible Structures of Supercivilizations
  • The Radio Search For Intelligent Extraterrestral Life
  • Detectability of Extraterrestrial Technological Activities
  • Flash Animation on Civilizations


  • Kardashev, N. S. "Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations," Soviet Astronomy, 8, 217 (1964)
  • Kaku, Michio. "How Advanced Can a Civilization Become?", Astrobiology Magazine, Apr 26, 2004
  • Energy Consumption of Europe
  • Wind Powering America ]
  • Clean Energy for Planetary Survival: International Development Research Centre
  • LBL Scientists Research Global Warming
  • E3 Handbook
  • Clarke H2 energy systems
  • Types Of Civilizations A Look Into A Human Perspective
  • Long Term History
  • Just My Type: Kardashev Civilizations in SF and Beyond
  • Interstellar Probes: A New Approach to SETI
  • Future Hi: Exotic Civilizations: Beyond Kardaschev
  • "Exponential Expansion: Galactic Destiny or Technological Hubris?", in The Search for Extraterrestrial Life: Recent Developments, B. R. Finney, M. D. Papagiannis (ed.), Dordrecht, D. Reidel Publ. Co. (1985), pp 465-463.
  • Energy Conversions and Equivalencies
  • Key World Energy Statistics
  • Shkadov Thurster
  • Technological Spiral -- alternative view to civilization development timescales

Last updated: 02-07-2005 12:50:37
Last updated: 02-18-2005 14:20:24