A New Scale for Classifying Intelligence?

Matt Williams
2 min readFeb 22, 2022
Dustin Gibson

In the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), there are many limiting factors. These go beyond the usual technical limitations, where SETI researchers are reliant on existing radio telescopes that can only be used for limited amounts of time. A far greater one is the very limited frame of reference we have for measuring intelligence.

Let’s face it, our notions of intelligence are entirely self-centered and anthropocentric. We think of intelligence in terms of ourselves and rarely consider that intelligence can occur under other domains, even though many exist here on Earth and there is a considerable body of research that takes a wider view.

Given the way SETI research has become reinvigorated in recent decades, there are many who believe its time to expand our notions on what forms life and intelligence could take. For my purposes, the following scheme is motivated mainly by my interest science fiction and its unparalleled ability to explore the deeper mysteries of the Universe.

For your viewing pleasure, I therefore present the Intelligence Scale. It is arranged base on the nature of the intelligence (labels are frustrating and inexact), and the scale it occupies.

Type a — Distributed: Consisting of individual intelligent beings connected together through social relationships
Type b — Collective: Consisting of large groups of organisms that make up a cohesive intelligent unit
Type c — Cooperative: Consisting of individual intelligence that have merged to form a larger whole
Type d — Adaptive: Consisting of intelligence that is capable of functioning in more than one mode or environment
Type e — Assimilative: Consisting of intelligence that is collective and incorporates all organisms in its environment into a greater whole

Type I — Micrometer: Organisms measuring a few micrometers to a few centimeters in scale (ranging from microbes to insect-like creatures)
Type II — Meter: Organisms measuring in the meter range, mammals to high-order primates
Type III — Planetary: Organisms encompassing a large geographic region to an entire planet
Type IV — Stellar: Organisms extending beyond a single planet to an entire solar system
Type V — Cosmic: Organisms occupying a large region of space, extending for light-years and possibly entire galaxies

For reference, humanity is a Type IIa species, which is arguably making the transition to a Type IIIa thanks to the digital age. Will we ever give rise to different classes ourselves, or will we find examples that challenge our notions out there in the cosmos? In both cases, I sincerely hope so!



Matt Williams

Space/astronomy journalist for Universe Today, SF author, and all around family man!