Why Humans Might Never Become A Type One Civilization: Part 2 | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio WRITTEN BY: Sean Frankling
Will humanity ever reach Type I on the Kardashev Scale? In this 2-part special, Unveiled rates our chances of ever being able to harness all of the power from our home planet, Earth... because, only then can we hope to fully explore the rest of the solar system and the rest of the universe!

Sure, we can use the Kardashev Scale to dream of a far-future time, but will those dreams ever become reality?

Why Humans Might Never Become a Type One Civilization: Part 2

When we think about the future, it can feel exciting… but it can also feel quite scary. So, is there any reason to go so far as to doubt the future of humanity itself?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re exploring the extraordinary possibility that humans might never become a Type One Civilization... And, in case you missed it, this is Part 2 of a two-part special, so check out Part 1 via the link in the description!

As we found out in the first video, the Kardashev Scale is a civilization classification system, thought up by the Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev in 1964. Humanity, as we are, ranks at about 0.7 on it… but there were originally three main levels - or civilization “Types” - to aim for. Type One harnesses all the power of its home planet; for Type Two it’s all the power of its home star; and for Type Three, it’s all the power of its home galaxy. As we, humankind, continually strive to make full use of planet Earth, we’re essentially aiming to become Type One. But there are a number of reasons why we might not get there; why we might encounter what’s known as a Great Filter between now and then.

In the first video, we discussed the possibility of running out of resources, and of self-annihilation. Now, let’s move onto our third Great Filter candidate… and while humanity itself will’ve had a hand in the first two, there’s really nothing it can do about this one! It’s called the Berserker Scenario, and it goes like this…

When we look further up the Kardashev Scale, we see that Type Two civilizations control all the power of their star… but, beyond them, there’s Type Three, which are so advanced that they control all the power pouring out of every star in their home galaxy. And beyond that, there could be Types Four and Five; extensions to the original scale, but with the power of the universe and the multiverse respectively. However, if we were to start looking for signs of life as advanced as this, would we even know what we were looking for? Or, in fact, if it was already here, if it was already affecting us, would we be able to recognise it?

One way of thinking about this is to imagine a beetle that’s about to be run over by a car. The beetle doesn’t understand that there’s a car in front of it being driven by a human, it just sees the big rubber wall of the tire bearing down on it. The outcome, for the beetle, is made no more or less fatal by its lack of knowledge about what has just happened to it, though. Now, replace the beetle with humans, and replace the car with a Type Three Plus superior civilization, and our potential helplessness in the bigger picture of the universe begins to become clear.

The Berserker Scenario says that there IS another intelligence out there in space somewhere… and it’s not friendly. And it’s they who determine when and where the Great Filter takes hold. The idea is that this ultra-advanced civilization lies in wait until something else - something like humanity - develops enough technology to catch their eye. They then swoop in and blast them out of existence. This game of cosmic whack-a-mole then repeats for so long it accounts for the apparent lack of intelligent life anywhere in the universe. So far, humanity hasn’t shown itself to the Berserker as a mole to be whacked, but one day it will, and in the context of today’s question, that’s why we might never reach Kardashev Type One!

So, how do we possibly defend ourselves against this one? Against an unknown foe with far superior technology? One option, arguably the only option, would be to stay quiet, stay home and hope that nobody notices us. Naturally, though, doing that would also require us to halt all technological progress, to reduce our impact on the cosmos, which would also stop us from reaching Type One anyway. In the Berserker Scenario, we’re in trouble if we do, and we’re in trouble if we don’t. We’re either indefinitely limited in terms of what we can achieve, or definitely dead.

And, in truth, even without an all-seeing Type Three society instantly ending us from afar, and even if we were to hunker down and just hope that we’ll never get spotted, we could still encounter some other, resource-hungry Type One or Two civilization which chooses us at random as the site of its next terraforming project. This situation is basically the plot of every alien invasion movie ever made… and, as we’ve shown in previous videos, our chances against even lower level extraterrestrial aggressors aren’t all that high!

That said, in Part 1 of this episode we discussed how our own technological progression - particularly with weapons - could prove to be our undoing… but, here, we’d see at least a faint flipside to having all those bombs and rocket launchers at our disposal. Because, the higher up the Kardashev scale we were to get, the better our odds of being able to at least try to combat an alien race become. In an ideal world, of course, we’d be able to reach out to the aliens and befriend them. We’d discover another civilization, start an alliance and between us make each other stronger. But, as even the renowned physicist Steven Hawking has suggested, any alien society just showing up in our corner of space would probably be much more interested in cannibalizing us for resources… making for yet another reason why we might not reach Kardashev Type One!

So, across Parts 1 and 2 of this episode, we’ve covered our running out of fuel, our blowing ourselves up, and our getting blown up, invaded and otherwise obliterated by something else… All reasonably valid Great Filter possibilities. But our final Great Filter candidate is arguably the most plausible of all - even if it isn’t quite as dramatic. Because, let’s face it, even without some massive catastrophe putting the stoppers on it all, harnessing every scrap of energy that our planet has to offer is a herculean task. What if we just can’t cooperate long enough to actually do it? What if we, as a species, simply run out of time?

It’s not as though we have a spotless or especially efficient track record up until now. For most of modern human history, we’ve waged various wars against each other; we’ve continually had to balance tense diplomatic ties, and trade disputes, and territory claims; we’ve had to fight plague, and disease and pandemics. On the one hand, we’ve made it this far… so well done us! But, on the other, there’s still a long way to go.

It’s roughly estimated that, in general, any species becomes extinct after between one and ten million years on Earth. Some die off sooner and some survive for longer, but that’s the ballpark figure that scientists work from. In our case, and it depends on when you set the timer running, but it’s generally accepted that modern humans have been around for about 300,000 years… which leaves us plenty of time, if those numbers align - right? And, really, there is reason to be hopeful. For all the well-reported negative effects that humanity can have, some things are getting better. According to “Our World in Data”, the average number of war deaths worldwide has been in steady decline since 1945, for example. And, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has also fallen.

But, still it’s not as though we can consider ourselves truly cooperative. And while we continue to see humanitarian emergencies, political struggles and social inequality, it can be difficult to argue against those who say that space exploration (or far-future tech investment) is a waste of time. We clearly do have other problems to work out, as well. If we knew the secret to world peace, you’d think we would have used it by now… but until we’re all united in our goals, we’re simply not going to reach Type One. And who knows how long that will take? Perhaps one hundred years; perhaps one hundred thousand; perhaps we’ll never get there. In some ways, competition (like with the space race) is what drives progress forward, but it figures that we’re also going to need to work together.

Coincidentally enough, the solution to surviving most of the Great Filter candidates we’ve mentioned in these two videos effectively amounts to… be good. We need to be smart with our resources. Take care of the planet. Take care of our neighbours and learn to cooperate with our enemies - even if they were to be actual alien invaders. If we’re then lucky enough to avoid a Berserker Scenario, we may well climb the Kardashev Scale yet. But, otherwise, those are the reasons why humans might never become a Type One civilization.