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Type 1, 2, and 3 Civilizations


How to understand the technology of civilizations thousands to millions of years ahead of ours?

One way is the classification created by Nikolai Kardashev, a Russian physicist, in the 1960s.

It classifies civilizations depending on their consumption of energy. 

Science dictates that every civilization type will emit a characteristic form of radiation that is measurable. Even if an advanced civilization tried to conceal its presence, it could still be detected using today’s instruments. 

Any advanced civilization will create entropy in the form of waste heat that will drift into outer space. Even if they tried to mask their presence, it is impossible to hide the faint glow created by this process.

The classification of energy consumption breaks civilizations into three basic types.  The energy output of type 1, 2, and 3 civilizations.


Type 1

A type 1 civilization is one that has harnessed planetary forms of energy. Their energy consumption is measurable. By definition, they are able to use the entire amount of solar energy striking their planet. With this planetary energy, they might control or change the weather, change the course of hurricanes, or build cities on the ocean. Such civilizations are masters of their planet and have created a planetary civilization.


Type 2


For a type 2 civilization a single planet cannot provide it with enough energy. It has mastered the consumption of the energy of a whole star. A civilization of this type is able to consume the entire output of their star. They might also control solar flares and ignite other stars.


Type 3


This type of civilization uses all the energy within a solar system. It has expanded out into its home galaxy occupying large portions of it.  It is able to use the energy from 10 billion stars.


Factors of 10


The difference between each civilizations type, is an ability to consume power by a factor of 10 billion more than the one below it. A type 3 civilization can use 10 billion times the energy output of a type 2 civilization. A type 2 in turn harnesses 10 billion times the output of a type 1 civilization.

Although the gap separating these civilizations may seem astronomical, it is possible to estimate the time it might take to achieve a type 3 civilization.

We can assume that a civilization grows at a modest rate of 2 -3% in its energy output per year. 

This is a plausible assumption. It is roughly the rate at which energy consumption grows in the modern world. As economies grow so do their energy needs. The larger the economy, the greater its energy demands.

At this modest rate, we can estimate that our current civilization is approximately 100 to 200 years from attaining type 1 status.

It will take us roughly 1,000 to 5,000 years to become a type 2. Perhaps 100,000 to a million years to become a type 3. 


Type O


On the Kardashev scale, our civilization is currently classified as a type 0.

Our energy comes from dead plants (oil and coal). Controlling a hurricane, which can unleash the power of hundreds of nuclear weapons, is beyond our technology.

To describe our present-day civilization, astronomer Carl Sagan advocated creating finer gradations between the civilization types. 

A type 1.1 civilization, for example, which generates 1017 watts of power. A type 1.2 civilization, which generates 1018 watts of power, and so on. 

By dividing each type into ten smaller subtypes, we can begin to classify our own civilization.

On this scale, our present civilization is more like a type 0.7 civilization. This means we are still a thousand times smaller than a type 1. 

But we are within striking distance of being truly planetary.  

Although our civilization is still quite primitive, we already see signs of this transition taking place.




  • The Internet is an emerging type 1 telephone system. It has the capability of becoming the basis of a universal planetary communication network.
  • Large trading blocs resembling the European Union are growing. 
  • English is already the dominant second language on Earth. The entire population of a type 1 civilization may be bilingual, speaking both a local language and a planetary language.
  • The world is becoming more economically interdependent. 
  • There is the emergence of a planetary middle class more interested in tourism and the accumulation of wealth than in overpowering other peoples or regions.
  • Pollution is increasingly tackled on a planetary scale.  Global environmental problems need global solutions.
  • There is increased pressure to manage our resources on a global scale too.
  • Information is becoming free, encouraging society to be much more democratic.



This article draws on the work of Michio Kaku, particularly his book Parallel Worlds: The Science of Alternative Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos. Click here to learn more.

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