Nikolai Semenovich Kardashev, R.I.P.

25 April 1932–03 August 2019

Cosmologist, astronomer, and SETI scientist Nikolai Semenovich Kardashev has passed away, as announced online by UC Berkeley SETI.

Perhaps Kardashev’s best known contribution was his division of technological civilizations into three types (designated by Roman numerals I, II, and III), and this has been the pretext for countless expositions of Kardashev civilization types. The original exposition of Kardashev’s civilization types (reproduced below) is to be found in his classic paper: Kardashev, N. S., “Transmission of information by extraterrestrial civilizations,” Soviet Astronomy, Vol. 8, №2, Sept.-Oct. 1964.

Kardashev has, unfortunately, been invoked more often than he has been discussed in regard to civilization, and having encountered authors who write about Kardashev civilization types without having apparently ever bothered to read Kardashev himself, I wrote a post about this for Centauri Dreams some years ago: What Kardashev Really Said. It has been on my mind for some time to return to this essay and to revise some of what I said in this post, but, in the main, this still expresses my frustration over how Kardashev’s work has been influential while remaining mostly unread by those who most frequently refer to it.

Kardashev not only wrote many papers on astronomy, he also wrote a number of papers on SETI, extraterrestrial civilizations, and the place of civilization in the universe, but the influence of his civilization types has been such as to leave this other work neglected while imaginative constructions are raised on top on the motif of KI, KII, and KIII civilizations. We can hope that, in the fullness of time, the scope and depth of Kardashev’s contribution will be fully appreciated.

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