Tuesday, June 22, 2010

MORE Tech Levels Of Science Fiction Groups And Cultures

This is a follow up to the ORIGINAL ARTICLE put up on the main site two years or so ago, detailing where exactly on the Tech Level scale different scifi civilizations would fit. It was by far the most popular thing ever put on the site, garnering over 100K hits since.

Tech Levels are based on the idea that, looking back, human history can be divided into distinct eras of technological development (stone age, bronze age, iron age, middle ages, etc). The Tech Level scale assigns a number to each of these, and tries to predict which future technological era a new innovation might fall. On the OV scale, there are 10 Historical Tech Levels (stone age = 1, iron age = 2, etc) and 15 Future Tech Levels (10 years from now = 11, 25 years from now = 12, etc.) Tech Level 10 corresponds to modern day Earth. For more details, see the articles on Tech Levels HERE and HERE.

On the OV scale, we look at a future idea or invention, and based on what we already know and are capable in the early 21st century, how long it would take to create that innovation for real. Yes, there are a number of speculative technologies that are in all likelihood impossible (such as FTL travel) but for our purposes here, we ask that if it is possible, how advanced technology in general would have to be in order to invent it.

Different people and properties have very different ideas about the pace of technological progress. For example, in the Star Trek universe, Warp Drive is discovered in the next 50 years or so, at Tech Level 13. But at OV, we assume warping the fabric of space to that degree is much more difficult (if its possible at all, of course), and isn’t doable until at least Tech Level 21. Both views are legitimate; its only a matter of interpretation.

Some caveats to clear up some confusion that arose from the last article (all conditions from the previous article apply as well):

This is a subjective interpretation only and not meant to be authoritative. People can, and should, have their own opinions.

This is not meant to imply the quality of storytelling or production of one particular property over another. This only compares the tech curve created for each scifi property against the tech we have in reality.

I’m sure I’ve left out a bunch of scifi properties still, particularly scifi computer games. I simply haven’t seen/read/played everything yet, and others I may have just plum forgotten about. Apologies.

This is meant purely for FUN. Relax, nerd out a little, and don't be afraid to let us know your own thoughts and opinions.

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Fringe (Alternate Universe)

Tech Level: 12

The alternate universe accessible in the TV series Fringe seems to be 20 or so years ahead of its sister Earth in its mainstream technology, with more advanced electronics, biotechnology, and sophisticated airships. Interdimensional and other weird tech, given the nature of the show, will likely remain in the superscience prototype stage on both Earths.


Tech Level: 14

One of anime’s truly great science fiction stories, Planetes takes place in 2075, when the world’s powers have harnessed helium-3 fusion, colonized the Moon, and have built an extensive orbital infrastructure.

WALL-E (WALL-E himself)

Tech Level: 14

A sophisticated and long-enduring AI robot system that evolved to sentience over the course of centuries.

2300 AD

Tech Level: 15

Game Designers’ Workshop’s late, lamented space opera RPG had a very hard science, nuts-and-bolts approach, even more so than its big brother Traveller. (Will be reviewed on this blog soon.)

Cowboy Bebop

Tech Level: 16

The creators of the anime classic Cowboy Bebop played fast and loose with technology in the series, freely mixing space opera tech (like warp gates) with earlier anachronisms (like 20th Century firearms). Still, a sprawling interplanetary civilization, terraformed worlds, advanced AI, and advanced genetic manipulation place it at about level 16.

Battlestar Galactica (New and Classic Series)

Tech Level: 17

Large and sophisticated spacecraft, fusion power, very advanced AI and robotics, place both series, humans and cylons both, squarely into the lower space opera Tech Levels. The main differences in tech between the two series seems to be that the classic series relied on energy weapons and force fields more and had less sophisticated robots, while the new series had less sophisticated weapons and more advanced robots(pictured at top.)

Revelation Space (Humans)

Tech Level: 17-18

The human civilization in this series by Alistair Reynolds seemed to have created a very sophisticated sublight civilization that had colonized a number of nearby star systems before running afoul of the Inhibitors, with the Conjoiner faction being one level ahead of the mainstream civilization. The Hell-Class Cache weapons described in the novels are considered one-time superscience prototypes, and aren’t used for classification here.


Tech Level: 18

Though it has interesting takes on a number of technologies, the societies of Farscape seem to fit fairly comfortably into the role of typical space opera civilizations, at level 18.

Wall-E (Axiom)

Tech Level: 18

Ubiquitous force fields, sophisticated anti-gravity, extremely versatile and powerful AI robots, seems to indicate Earth reached an amazing level of sophistication before the Axiom and her passengers abandoned it.

Type I Civilization

Tech Level: 18

In the classic scheme of characterizing advanced civilizations, a Type I civilization is capable of harnessing the energy potential of entire planets. Assuming that this includes taking advantage of every energy source available on a planetary scale, including tapping the planet's molten core, the tidal energy of its oceans, and the planet's magnetic field, this should fit fairly comfortable at Level 18 on the OV scale.

Type II Civilization

Tech Level: 21

A Type II Civilization in the classic scheme of characterizing advanced cultures stipulates harnessing the energy output of entire stars. With the creation of advanced Dyson Spheres, this capability comes at Level 21.

Transformers (Live-Action Movie)

Tech Level: 21

The living, quick-morphing, fast-healing AI robots of the film, along with the technology-altering Allspark energy source, would seem to require at least Tech Level 21 to construct. Interestingly, both factions of robots in the film seemed to have lost the very technological knowledge that was used to create them.

Gateway (The Heechee)

Tech Level: 21

Able to easily manipulate mass and gravity, create ultra-tensile strength materials, and hide out within the event horizons of black holes place the Heechee at about level 21.

The Culture

Tech Level: 22

Iain M. Banks’ far future utopian society is capable of building immense ringworlds (‘orbitals’), using sophisticated antimatter power and AIs, and routinely employs force fields, teleportation, and advanced nanotechnology.

Revelation Space (The Inhibitors)

Tech level: 24

Immensely powerful and advanced femto-machines left over from an eons-old war, they are charged with destroying any civilization in the Galaxy that reaches a certain technological level.

Type III Civilization

Tech Level: 25

A Type III Civilization is capable of harnessing the energy of an entire galaxy. How exactly this could be done is pure conjecture at best, and thus falls at the edge of what we can reasonably project even with the best guesses of speculative technology provided here.

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I'll no doubt do another update like this sometime in the future.


Aristide said...

Congratulations for your website!
I've found there many ideas for the science-fiction novel I've started to write, and I thank you for that.
I have a question on your Tech Levels scale: where would the Greys of "real-world" UFO fame fit in your opinion? Greetings from Old Europe.

Paul Lucas said...

Greetings Aristide. = )

I don' know about the Greys. They seem to occupy the same niche in the human psyche that the Fae (elves, gnomes, etc) did in medieval times. They're the mythical outsiders occupying the dark just beyond our perception, coming in the night, stealing people away, doing awful and vaguely sexual things to them.

So basically they're the stuff of modern folklore and fairy tales, and its hard to pin down concretely, since their capabilities change with each story and era. But I'd guess just given their 'classic' abilities--interstellar travel, easy antigravity, sophisticated stealth tech, etc, I'd say they'd be Tech Level 17-18.

But their medical tech, where they have to mutilate cattle and anally probe subjects instead of just running an MRI scan or something, lags way behind, at Tech Level 8. ;)

And good luck with your writing!

Aristide said...

Now that you make me think about it, their flight control systems are nothing to shout about either (see the alleged frequent UFO crashes ;)

Originally, I planned to include the Greys in my story, but then I had the (hopefully wise) idea to drop them and invent an alien civilization myself.

Anonymous said...


I think your tech gradation system lacks some really important examples of SF works that have appeared recently. For instance, Mass Effect universe has plenty of extremely different(yet highly developed) civilizations, and it would be very interesting if you try and establish their places in the list. The same can be said about EVE Online fractions. Both are famous and well-thought-out space-opera PC games.
Also, there are several examples of oustanding works in anime and manga realm that you have not yet touched. One of the most impressive is manga named Blame! You can find some info about it here: http://outskirtsbattledome.wikispaces.com/Blame!
but you really should read it(online for the sake of time) in order to understand what it is.
10 volumes of Battle Angel Alita are another example of very interesting SF story.

Oh, and thank you very much for the OV site! Look forward to new interesting articles.

Paul Lucas said...

Well, like I said before, I just don't have time to see/read/play everything. I especially haven't been able to game a whole lot in the last few years, and I know I missed out on a lot of good scifi games. I've heard a lot of great things about Mass Effect and would love to play it, but I just don't have the time currently.

I read the Battle Angel Alita manga many years ago, and really liked it. But I don't remember that any tech details except that it was cyberpunkish. I'll definitely look up Blame! and give that a look though.

And glad you like the site. = )

Anonymous said...

I bet even a hardcore SF fan like you will be impressed by this manga=). Just dont be repelled by somewhat scratchy graphics of the first 2 volumes.

And if you like it, write a review, please=)!

Pds3.14 said...

Interesting, though I don't really think type iii civs belong at TL-25, considering that they need not develop anything beyond (significantly) FTL communications and movement.
And a minimal type ii being on par with star trek seems odd, as does a type I (able to use most/much of a planet's energy) being on par with starwars.