Why a Type III Civilization Might Be Terrible
What will the humans of the future look like? How will society function in a hundred, a thousand, or a million years’ time? It’s in our natures to continually ask “what comes next?”. To ponder the road we’re heading down, and to debate whether we’ve chosen the right path. Because, for all the glittering promise that’s lighting up the horizon, are there also shadows creeping unchecked?
This is Unveiled, and today we’re uncovering the unusual reasons why a type three civilization might actually be terrible.
As per the original Kardashev Scale, it doesn’t get much better than a type three civilization. Life here means making use of the energy potential of an entire galaxy. The whole of the Milky Way - 100,000 light years across, at least, and packed with stars and planets - at your fingertips. At first glance, is there anything you couldn’t do? While versions of this imagined state do differ, you could be piloting light-speed vehicles across the cosmos; or navigating a wormhole network to jump between star systems; or tapping into the hive mind to access any knowledge you wanted. You’d be linking with other galaxies, to tame the wider universe. You’d understand all about alien life, you’d speak many alien languages, and you'd probably have left Earth to set up home on an alien planet, yourself. Life would be long, death would be negligible. You might even live forever.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But what if we told you that it could also be horrible, painful, or even tortuous? What if we said that for all that apparent freedom, you might also feel like a prisoner, trapped and desperate? Because, although the Kardashev Scale is probably our most famous guide to the future, is it also leading us to despair?
Consider what it means to be “human” in such a world. Physically speaking, our bodies will surely have been changed, adapted and modified beyond recognition. As incredible as they may seem to us at times, these fleshy sacks of muscle, fat, bone, skin and organs we currently inhabit aren’t without their problems. Our current bodies break all the time. Injuries happen and diseases take hold, and that’s never good. At type three, we expect to have beaten most of what ails ya, though, via the miracles of technology. Artificially strengthened skeletons, digitally controlled metabolism, lab-grown replacement organs that work better than the real things ever did. In some ways, we’ll never have been healthier or more resilient… and the future survival of our species will never have been more certain.
But there could well be a hefty price to pay, because in this post-organic future world there are real questions of care, ownership, and of individuality. If our bones can’t break (or they're easy to replace) or if in breaking they perhaps never cause us pain… then would we bother so much about what we put our bodies through? You’ve heard of “fast fashion” but this would be “fast physique”, where everything about your physical makeup is quickly replaceable. And so, nothing about your body feels especially important.
Next, imagine something as seemingly vital as your bloodstream at type three. It could be that type three humans no longer run on blood as we currently understand it, because artificially enhanced blood will’ve been brewed for better results. As with most other imagined technologies, the positives are easy to see, with “controlled blood” ridding us of any (and all) blood diseases… while also nourishing our bodies in pinpoint deliberate ways. But that “control” has a darker side, too, where there’s the potential to imagine any one person’s blood being hacked. The same might be true of other aspects of our future bodies, as well. Say type threes have digitally enhanced eyeballs to allow for always-perfect vision, for example… but then the software that runs them gets corrupted… and suddenly all eyeball “users” are either blind, or seeing the wrong things.
Finally, that question of individuality is perhaps not so immediately dangerous, but there are still some bizarre (and perhaps scary) possibilities. Think of technology today, that isn’t yet so entangled with our actual, physical lives, and everyone wants the latest thing. The result being that many wind up carrying around the same models of smartphone, wearing the same earphones, driving the same cars, etc. And for now that’s fine because we can switch off our phones or step out of our cars and still just be us, in all our human varieties. At type three, though, it could be that everyone craves exactly the same eyes, or the same haircuts, or voice tones. And, before long, we’re all retrospectively building (and rebuilding) ourselves in the same ways. Add the perils of advertising into the mix, and it’s clear to see how big companies could soon monopolize even the human form. How a select few could soon ruthlessly influence a huge majority.
Clearly, the potential for power in a type three world is massive. And so, the potential to abuse power is even bigger. Consider just in today’s society how many ethical debates surround many of the most influential companies on Earth. Whether it’s surveillance culture or environmental footprint, those at the top of global corporations already have a lot to answer for. But now imagine a comparable brand or company of the future that has the entire Milky Way galaxy under its gaze. In one future reality, for instance, there are perhaps just a couple of firms competing for contracts to build Dyson Spheres around stars. They’ve patented designs that work extremely well, and their company names have become synonymous with energy in general. Whole star systems and clusters depend on them, then, and whoever’s running them are ranked amongst the richest of the rich. For them, type three is a dream utopia. But, for everyone else, perhaps not so much.
Although not all variations of Kardashev type three include a massive population boom and spread, many do. As humans diversify, so do the homes and environments they choose to live in, thanks to the much improved transport options they enjoy. But still, unless every type three being harvests their own required energy, or maintains their own wormhole network, or owns their own home planet… then their freedoms are still extremely limited.
When we imagine the future world and potential technologies, it’s arguably easy to assume that it all will unfold for the betterment of everyone. But history already shows us that this isn’t always (or even often) the case. An often-cited example in the modern day is email. There’s no doubt that it’s vastly more convenient than snail mail. It’s quicker, cheaper, and easier to send and receive than a bygone letter, plus it’s much less likely to get lost or damaged in transit. Again, though, there’s a darker side, where nowadays you can easily get “hooked” on email, constantly refreshing your inbox and writing new messages. Now, it can be difficult to switch off… but that was never the case before. Regular letters were delivered, read, sometimes replied to, and then you just got on with your day until the same five-minute “mail window” tomorrow. Email, by contrast, has improved our lives, but also changed them in other, less desirable ways.
The same (but worse) could be the case at type three. Unlimited energy may well have been made possible, but for those that aren’t making money directly from that energy… that might only mean that they’re “always on”. That there’s never room for any good ol’ fashioned peace and quiet. Similarly, things like reinforced spines, upgraded super-hearing, and calorie-perfect diet pills might well have turned us all into the absolute optimum versions of ourselves… but would we ever be afforded time to rest? And, finally, while the imagined image of an entire galaxy ablaze with life and power can feel like something of a beacon of hope hanging ahead of us… what would the repercussions be for the wider universe? Today we talk of the environmental or carbon footprint that our choices and industries make just to Earth and in its atmosphere… but now our actions would truly be bleeding out into the rest of space. How long, then, before all that life falls in on itself toward doom?
These are some as yet unanswerable questions, but they at least serve to tilt the conversation when it comes to the Kardashev Scale. Yes, it’s fun, encouraging and exciting to ask what the future might hold for us in terms of improvement… and that’s still the case. But should we also think more seriously about the problems we could be laying the foundations for. Because that’s why a type three civilization might actually be terrible.