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. The actual figure is quite variable; Earth specifically has an available power of 1.74×1017 W. Kardashev's original definition was 4x1012 W. (It was identified as a Technological level close(st) to the level presently attained on earth, "presently" meaning 1964.)
- Type II - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single star, approximately 1026 W. Again, this figure is variable; the Sun outputs approximately 3.86×1026 W. Kardashev's original definition was 4x1026 W.
- Type III - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single galaxy, approximately 1036 W. This figure is extremely variable, since galaxies vary widely in size. Kardashev's original definition was 4x1037 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.
The article is highly speculative, but fascinating. Here are a few commentaries.
On the Kardashev scale in SF: It seems that Dyson spheres and Shkadov thrusters (Dyson "hemispheres" for moving solar systems on solar sail power) are just the beginning. Interesting, too, that zero point technology (such as the Ancients' Zero Point Module technology in the Stargate SG-1/Atlantis universe) is considered low-grade "Type III" despite the relatively lower power (as opposed to work) output of the actual Ancient ZPMs. Also, I noted with interest that all FTL travel (possessed even by the Twelve Colonies of Kobol on Battlestar Galactica, barely a Kardashev Type I civilization before their holocaust) is considered a typical Type III capability.
On the Kardashev scale in real life: It's speculated that the transition from a Type 0 Kardashev civilization (present day) to a Type 1 one (expected by 2200) will be accompanied by either self-destruction or a technological singularity. What do you all think? Personally, I think it shows that futurists have been a little optimistic in predicting a technological singularity in this century; however, it may be the case that estimates of Singularity Year based upon the Kardashev scale are also pessimistic.
On a related note, did anyone catch this roundtable discussion on CNN's Welcome to the Future with Miles O'Brien last week? I posted about it to tessier_ashpool (the main AI community on LJ) and singularity_now.
Apropos of the title: American Movie Classics (AMC) is airing a Godfather Trilogy marathon today and tomorrow (Tuesday). "We're bigger than U.S. Steel" is from The Godfather, Part II. It's been about 20 years since I first saw that on network TV, though I didn't see the first part until a little over a year ago, so it was confusing to me.