Kardashev Scale
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Basic Information

The Kardashev Scale is a theoretical scale for measuring the progress of civilizations, especially extraterrestrial civilizations, as it puts the energy consumption of a civilization into a cosmic perspective. The scale has four categories: Type 0, Type I, Type II and Type III.

  • A Type 0 civilization inhabits a single planet and has not yet tapped all the resources of that planet. Calculations suggest that mankind is currently approximately Type 0.72, approaching Type I.
  • A Type I civilization has mastered the energy and resources of it's home planet. To advance to Type I, a society would probably need to develop affordable Fusion Power, Antimatter production, or space-based solar power collecting satellites.
  • Type II civilizations have mastered the energy and resources of their entire solar system. To advance to Type II, you might need a Dyson Sphere or Dyson Swarm, collect the photons emitted from the accretion disc of a black hole such as via the Penrose Process, or absorbing a fraction of the energy output of numerous stars in many star systems.
  • Type III civilizations have mastered the resources and energy of their entire galaxy. They would either employ the methods used by Type II civilizations, but across a much larger area. Alternately, they might tap the energy of the supermassive black hole found at the center of most galaxies.
  • Other scientists have proposed the addition of a Type IV civilization that has mastered extra-galactic energy sources such as Dark Energy or applied Type II methods to the entire Supercluster within which they originated.

Sometimes the scale is applied with an extra component, a letter scale that signifies the amount of information the civilization has access to. It starts at A (which is less than the amount of knowledge of any known earthly culture) and each subsequent letter is an Order of Magnitude greater. On this version of the scale, all of humanity totals a 0.72 H.

The advance from one Type to the next is expected to be a tumultuous time, with social upheavals at least as major as the Industrial Revolution was for us. See Kardashev Cusp for an exploration of the challenges faced prior to and during the transition.

See also:



Game and Story Use

  • At the very least, it's great jargon for space-minded Mad Scientists to use.
    • An advanced space-faring race (Type II or higher) might use this scale to classify "lesser" civilizations they encounter.
      • Giving a high number/letter designation to a new alien race is a way to indicate to the players that said race is powerful.
      • A low number but high letter would indicate a very advanced intelligence and culture, that was now (voluntarily?) limiting it's activities, such as the Organians in Star Trek.
      • A high number but low letter would suggest a cultural collapse, where automation kept the machinery of society running, and tradition kept the energy consumption high. This despite a dark age in which the technology that enabled the culture's existence was no longer understood.
  • A game set on the cusp of transforming to the next Type would be interesting. The first half of the campaign would feature an energy crisis, and wars over resources, followed by a technological singularity transformation or Malthusian Catastrophe, depending on the actions of the PCs.
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