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Type I, II, III Civilizations

An excerpt from the book of Michio Kaku

Futurology, or the prediction of the future from reasonable scientific judgments, is a risky science. Some would not even call it a science at all, but something that more resembles hocus pocus or witchcraft. Futurology has deservedly earned this unsavory reputation because every scientific" poll conducted by futurologists about the next decade has proved to be wildly off the mark. What makes futurology such a primitive science is that our brains think linearly, while knowledge progresses exponentially. For example, polls of futurologists have shown that they take known technology and simply double or triple it to predict the future. Polls taken in the 1920s showed that futurologists predicted that we would have, within a few decades, huge fleets of blimps taking passengers across the Atlantic.

But science also develops in unexpected ways. In the short run, when extrapolating within a few years, it is a safe bet that science will progress through steady, quantitative improvements on existing technology. However, when extrapolating over a few decades, we find that qualitative breakthroughs in new areas become the dominant factor, where new industries open up in unexpected places.

Perhaps the most famous example of futurology gone wrong is the predictions made by John von Neumann, the father of the modern electronic computer and one of the great mathematicians of the century. After the war, he made two predictions: first, that in the future computers would become so monstrous and costly that only large governments would be able to afford them, and second, that computers would be able to predict the weather accurately.

In reality, the growth of computers went in precisely the opposite direction: We are flooded with inexpensive, miniature computers that can fit in the palm of our hands. Computer chips have become so cheap and plentiful that they are an integral part of some modern appliances. Already, we have the "smart" typewriter (the word processor), and eventually we will have the "smart" vacuum cleaner, the "smart" kitchen, the "smart" television, and the like. Also, computers, no matter how powerful, have failed to predict the weather. Although the classical motion of individual molecules can, in principle, be predicted, the weather is so complex that even someone sneezing can create distortions that will ripple and be magnified across thousands of miles, eventually, perhaps, unleashing a hurricane.

With all these important caveats, let us determine when a civilization (either our own or one in outer space) may attain the ability to master the tenth dimension. Astronomer Nikolai Kardashev of the former Soviet Union once categorized future civilizations in the following way. A Type I civilization is one that controls the energy resources of an entire planet. This civilization can control the weather, prevent earth- quakes, mine deep in the earth's crust, and harvest the oceans. This civilization has already completed the exploration of its solar system. A Type 11 civilization is one that controls the power of the sun itself. This does not mean passively harnessing solar energy; this civilization mines the sun. The energy needs of this civilization are so large directly consumes the power of the sun to drive its machines. The civilization will begin the colonization of local star systems.

A Type III civilization is one that controls the power of an entire galaxy. For a power source, it harnesses the power of billions of star systems. It has probably mastered Einstein's equations and can manipulate space-time at will. The basis of this classification is rather simple: Each level is catergorized on the basis of the power source that energizes the civilization. Type I civilizations use the power of an entire planet. Type II civilizations use the power of an entire star. Type III civilizations use the power of an entire galaxy. This classification ignores any predictions concerning the detailed nature of future civilizations (which are bound to be wrong) and instead focuses on aspects that can be reasonably understood by the laws of physics, such as energy supply.

Our civilization, by contrast, can be categorized as a Type 0 civilization, one that is just beginning to tap planetary resources, but does not have the technology and resources to control them. A Type 0 civilization like ours derives its energy from fossil fuels like oil and coal and, in much of the Third World, from raw human labor. Our largest computers can- not even predict the weather, let alone control it. Viewed from this larger perspective, we as a civilization are like a newborn infant.

Although one might guess that the slow march from a Type 0 civilization to a Type III civilization might take millions of years, the extraordinary fact about this classification scheme is that this climb is an exponential one and hence proceeds much faster than anything we can readily conceive.

With all these qualifications, we can still make educated guesses about when our civilization will reach these milestones. Given the rate at which our civilization is growing, we might expect to reach Type I status within a few centuries.

For example, the largest energy source available to our Type 0 civilization is the hydrogen bomb. Our technology is so primitive that we can unleash the power of hydrogen fusion only by detonating a bomb, rather than controlling it in a power generator. However, a simple hurricane generates the power of hundreds of hydrogen bombs. Thus weather control, which is one feature of Type I civilizations, is at least a century away from today's technology.

Similarly, a Type I civilization has already colonized most of its solar system. By contrast, milestones in today's development of space travel are painfully measured on the scale of decades, and therefore qualitative leaps such as space colonization must be measured in centuries. For example, the earliest date for NASA's manned landing on the planet Mars is 2020. Therefore, the colonization of Mars may take place 40 to 50 years after that, and the colonization of the solar system within a century.

By contrast, the transition from a Type I to a Type II civilization may take only 1,000 years. Given the exponential growth of civilization, we may expect that within 1,000 years the energy needs of a civilization will become so large that it must begin to mine the sun to energize its machines.

A typical example of a Type II civilization is the Federation of Planets in the "Star Trek" series. This civilization has just begun to master the gravitational force-that is, the art of warping space-time via holes-and hence, for the first time, has the capability of reaching nearby stars. It has evaded the limit placed by the speed of light by mastering Einstein's theory of general relativity. Small colonies have been established on some of these systems, which the starship Enterprise is sworn to protect. The civilization's starships are powered by the collision of matter and antimatter. The ability to create large concentrations of antimatter suitable for space travel places that civilization many centuries to a millennium away from ours.

Advancing to a Type III civilization may take several thousand years ore. This is, in fact, the time scale predicted by Isaac Asimov in his c Foundation Series, which describes the rise, fall, and re-emergence of a galactic civilization. The time scale involved in each of these transitions involves thousands of years. This civilization has harnessed the energy source contained within the galaxy itself. To it, warp drive, ad of being an exotic form of travel to the nearby stars, is the standard means of trade and commerce between sectors of the galaxy. Thus although it took 2 million years for our species to leave the safety of the forests and build a modem civilization, it may take only thousands of to leave the safety of our solar system and build a galactic civilization.

One option open to a Type III civilization is harnessing the power of supernovae or black holes. Its starships may even be able to probe the galactic nucleus, which is perhaps the most mysterious of all energy sources. Astrophysicists have theorized that because of the enormous size of the galactic nucleus, the center of our galaxy may contain millions of black holes. If true, this would provide virtually unlimited amounts of energy.

At this point, manipulating energies a million billion times larger than present-day energies should be possible. Thus for a Type III civilization, with the energy output of uncountable star systems and perhaps the galactic nucleus at its disposal, the mastery of the tenth dimension' becomes a real possibility.

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