The Kardashev Scale & AI: Likely Bedfellows

How can we use one astronomer’s classification of alien civilisations to inform our thinking around AI?

Catriona Campbell

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Intergalactic space travel

This week, I’m keen to dip into a little science-fiction — shock horror! As you may have ascertained from a few other articles to date, I enjoy watching, reading and writing about sci-fi. And what would my commitment to the genre be without a fascination with the great speculators of our future?

One I stumbled upon recently is Nikolai Kardashev, a Soviet and Russian astrophysicist and SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) pioneer who passed away just last year.

During his long and colourful career, Kardashev became known for many things, but one that stands out above the rest is his method of measuring and classifying an alien civilisation’s level of technological advancement based on the amount of energy it is capable of storing and using.

Known as the Kardashev Scale (KS), the method describes 3 levels, expanding through various orders of magnitude:

  1. Type I Civilisations (somewhat close to humans), also called planetary civilisations, which can capture and harness all available energy on their planet.
  2. Type II Civilisations, also called stellar civilisations, which can capture and harness all available energy within their planetary system and from the star around which it orbits.
  3. Type III Civilisations, also called galactic civilisations, which can capture and harness all available energy from their entire host galaxy.
Artificial Intelligence

Iwould be surprised if the levels of the KS don’t ring a bell for those with a keen interest in technology, and that’s because they’re not altogether unlike the broad categories of Artificial Intelligence (AI):

  1. Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), also referred to as Narrow AI or Weak AI, which is the only type of AI that humans have managed to create to date. It is goal-oriented, designed to perform specific tasks, and merely simulates human behaviour based on a narrow range of…

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Catriona Campbell

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position. catrionacampbell.com