The Scale of Technological Sophistication is a hierarchy of plateaus through which the technological advancement of a species or a group of species is defined. However, even within the same tier, differences between the most and least technologically developed members can be significant, especially within higher levels of the scale.
Tier IX: Pre-civilization Edit
Species of this tier have achieved sapience, where intelligent interaction between its members is possible. However, no true civilizations have formed, and the creation of tools and weaponry is limited to primitive degrees of craftsmanship, using only materials easily accessible on their homeworld (examples from Earth include wood, stone, bone, animal hides, etc.). Socially, pre-civilized peoples are headed loosely by leaders of convenience, typically along lines of seniority or strength.
Antique humanity stood on this plateau between 200,000 BCE and 12,000 BCE (Before the Common Era), when the very first civilized communities emerged in the Levant, the historical region around Syria, with the Natufian culture becoming sedentary, as in ceasing the nomadic way of life. It is believed to have achieved a significant degree of agricultural development by 10,000 BCE.
It is assumed that even the Ring Builders were once part of this level of technological development.
Tier VIII: Early civilization Edit
Species standing on this level have developed limited but functional communities scattered across their homeworld. The resource production strategies, settlement patterns and standard of living within each community may vary widely, from seasonal-nomadic to settled-agrarian and everything in between; however, in all cases, early-civilized communities are marked by greater-and-greater loss of the generalist (individualist) flexibility of pre-civilized peoples, replaced by a cultural interdependence upon communal activity for resource generation. These communal activities are usually undergirded by particular features of the natural world such as seasonal rains or particular lakes and rivers. In the earliest stages of this tier, sustained contact between communities is limited, and cross-community collaboration is virtually nonexistent. Likewise, proto-urban settlements are either rare or nonexistent.
By the end of this period, the dependence on communal social activities for sustenance and resource acquisition has allowed populations to grow, and the first urban centers to emerge. The Sumerian city of Eridu is often considered the world's first city. The growing population led to a need for dedicated social organizers; these dedicated social organizers form the species' first power elite, setting the stage for the transition to the pre-medieval civilization of Tier VII. While cross-community trade may emerge at this time, it typically remains limited.
Tier VII: Pre-Medieval civilization Edit
Species that are included within this level have begun to unify communities into unitary and functioning empire-like states whose boundaries are no longer confined to the boundaries of the natural settlement pattern of a single urban center and its resource-providing hinterland. While the Sumerian city-states were the first to touch the borders of Tier VII, the lack of cross-city-state Empires meant that Humanity did not reach this level until the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt in approximately 3,200 BCE.
Ancient Egyptian civilization displayed many of the traits which characterized the pre-medieval civilizations of Earth; it was governed by an absolute monarch, who was worshipped as and/or considered a deity, and whose personal authority enabled them to organize vast legions of human labor for the furthering of the goals of the state. The Pyramids, buildings which some deem to be far too complex for the period, are excellent examples of the raw human power wielded by these monarchs, but are also excellent examples of the social inefficiency of allowing a single individual to direct such labor for their own personal ends. Living standards in Egypt were also significantly higher compared to the previous tier, another hallmark of pre-medieval civilization
The closest humanity first came to exiting this period was during the Roman Empire. Although it existed in the pre-medieval period and often acted (especially in its later years) more in the interests of its individual emperors than in the interests of all its citizens, the Roman Empire is known to have dedicated an uncharacteristically high degree of resources to building aqueducts, roads, and complex buildings, such as the Colosseum, even in conquered territories. Moreover, the Romans are also known to have had a remarkably egalitarian and democratic government for the time period, as well as a sophisticated and organized sense of naturalistic scientific inquiry.
However, despite this pro-scientific, pro-democratic, and pro-civic bend, the Roman Empire never truly reached a state of sufficient decentralization to justify classification as a medieval/pre-industrial civilization. Moreover, the heavy reliance on slave labor for agribusiness purposes made certain kinds of technology, such as the steam engine, even if technologically feasible, socially unnecessary. Some speculate that the Romans might have been able to jump directly from Tier VII to Tier V had it not been for their willingness to rely on slave labor instead of machinery for production of goods; the effect this would've had on concepts of universal rights is unknown.
After the dissolution of the Roman Empire, humanity entered a period of cultural and technological regression, known as the "Dark Ages", "Middle Ages", or "The Age in Between" , that would end around 1000-1100 CE (Common Era). Even so, the Roman Empire remained the most advanced human civilization to ever exist up until the early 16th century.
The Ring Builders surpassed this tier more than two billion years ago.
Tier VI: Medieval / Pre-industrial civilization Edit
Species that are assigned this tier have divided their world into nation-states delimited by clearly defined borders with a sufficient degree of stability and social complexity to enable expansive trade, although the colonialistic and hegemonistic attitudes which defined the social context of pre-medieval nation-state expansion need not (and likely will not) have gone away. Because the cumulative effect of the social organization of the previous tier has been to create a true surplus of resources, medieval societies have much larger mercantile, craftsperson, and intelligentsia classes than pre-medieval civilizations. With all these other forms of power coming to the social fore, medieval and pre-industrial civilization is marked by a fundamental shift in power away from autocratic kings, into greater-and-greater states of decentralization. It is speculated that the presence of increasingly-educated people may also predispose Tier VI species towards an intellectual shift towards concepts of universal rights, though the degree to which this is true of all species is disputed.
Humanity was assigned this level between 1100 and 1760 CE, beginning roughly concurrently with the dawn of the feudal system in Europe. The most powerful nation-states during this period are usually regarded to have been the Spanish Empire, the United Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and Ming Dynasty China. At the very end of this period, democracy was introduced as a form of governance that replaces monarchs wholesale, during the founding of the French Republic and the United States of America.
It is currently a topic of much debate whether a period of growth of the concept of individual liberties is a necessary precondition for industrial civilization or merely a human peculiarity. It is in particular unknown whether the Ring Builders ever experienced this tier.
Tier V: Industrial civilization Edit
Any species which has begun to replace some forms of direct physical labor with a mechanical or technological coupling to some easier or more-efficient form of physical labor has entered Tier V. In the case of humanity, this occurred in England, when steam engines allowed coal miners to power the production of textiles, making the once-unrelated resource coal a crucial economic component of textile-making.
As technological efficiencies make goods much more readily available, but also much more dependent on specific high-energy resources, the aggressiveness of nation-states increases exponentially. While diplomatic alliances will attempt to contain the societal infrastructural damage done by this aggression, the lack of mutually-assured destruction means that victory for one side is always a possibility. For this reason, the alliances will inevitably collide with each other, possibly resulting in globe-wide wars. The technological advancement of this tier means that advanced chemical and mechanical weaponry is used for the first time. Living standards increase as well, as does the personal material wealth of the average worker.
Humanity stood on this level between 1760 and 1945 CE. It endured the First World War during 1914 and 1918 CE, when the Allies, mainly consisting of Russia, Great Britain, France, Serbia, Montenegro, and Japan, and later Italy, Romania, Portugal, the United States, and Greece, and the Central Powers, which were represented by Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire, finally clashed after nearly half a century of increasing international tensions.
Typically, it is not until later in Tiers III or IV that a species must first address the social pressures caused by industrial-stage resource depletion. However depending on the particularities of which high-energy resources were available and chosen in Tier V, this pressure may occur as soon as late Tier V, or else perhaps if the species is lucky, may never occur at all.
Tier IV: Atomic age Edit
A species has reached the atomic age once it has developed the technological capacity to destroy itself via a chain reaction caused by a single deliberate actor (suicide via emergent properties such as environmental collapse excluded). It gets its name from the atomic fission/fusion bombs developed by humanity in the 20th century, though in theory, there could for other species be other technologies which fill the same role (e.g. perhaps for the Ring Builders, it was the Protomolecule itself that served this role). Most species reach the climax of their aggressiveness during this period, after which point, international tensions begin to decrease because of mutually assured destruction (MAD). However, note that in the earliest stages of the atomic age before the technology has propagated sufficiently through the species, belligerent races may make use of weapons of mass destruction to force the surrender of one side in a military confrontation.
Humanity entered this period in 1945 CE, when two atomic weapons were used on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki against Imperial Japan in World War II (1939 - 1945), the last of humanity's world wars.
Tier III: Early spaceflight Edit
Tier III species have become sufficiently intelligent to escape the cradle of their civilization and set foot on another body in their star system.
Humanity's first extraplanetary flight took place in 1969, followed by a period of spaceflight regression after the conclusion of the Cold War and space race. However, as this was somewhat of an anomaly driven more by political pressure than by overall technological advancement, a better dating for the time which humanity truly entered this period is with the first interplanetary flights from Earth to Mars. As is typical for Tier III, such flights remained expensive until the invention of the Epstein drive.
Tier II: Interplanetary civilization Edit
Tier II species usually have a centralized, unified government that rules over their homeworld and its colonies across their star system. However, even in species in which official self-governing nation-states have disappeared, tensions will inevitably remain between various communities, and these tensions may blossom into full-on wars if insurrectionists vow for the independence of a central colony from the main government. To either guard against such possibilities or deal with them once they've arisen, space naval forces appear for the first time in Tier II civilizations, with fleets numbering from several to tens or hundreds of militarily-capable vessels.
Humanity reached this level in the early 23rd century, having extremely efficient space engines that can sustain a constant acceleration for one half of the journey, steadily decelerating for the other half. Given enough time, these engines could accelerate the spacecraft to significant percentages of the speed of light. However, since no interstellar flights have been attempted, no vessel has ever reached such speeds.
After severe damage had been done to Earth's ecosystem, climate change had reached critical levels, and fossil fuels had been depleted, the United Nations (UN) began gaining prominence by issuing projects to counteract these problems. Eventually, all nations ceded their individual sovereignty to the organization, effectively rendering the UN the unified government of all human territories. However, after achieving the ability to sustain themselves, the Martian colony vied for independence from the UN, which they were ultimately granted.
Thus was born the Martian Congressional Republic (MCR), and the rivalry between the final two human superpowers, the UN and the MCR, began. Other organizations sought official recognition as legitimate governments, such as the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), which claimed sovereignty over the Main Asteroid Belt of the Sol system. However, they achieved limited success. Current humanity is positioned somewhere between the second and first plateaus.
Tier I: Interstellar empire Edit
Species included within this tier are exceedingly advanced technologically and have functioning wormhole gates that link their colonies and allow for superluminal transit between them. Their colonies live in harmony with each other and with the central government(s), allowing for a thriving interstellar society to develop and a stable colonial empire.
For a better designation, this tier has been split up into two sub-plateaus:
Lower I: Early interstellar colonies Edit
These species have just cracked the secrets of stable wormholes and have few colonies over a portion of their stellar neighborhood.
Current humanity tends towards this position, however, they still lack the knowledge necessary for creating ever-lasting stable wormhole gates themselves and have spread across the galaxy only because of the discovery of a network of wormhole gates built by a foreign dissolved empire. Consequently, they remain short of Tier I and are classified as a Tier II species.
Higher I: Thriving interstellar empire Edit
These species have been colonizing portions of the galaxy over a significant period of time and have created a vast, stable, and thriving interstellar empire.
Before their demise at the hands of unknown aggressors, the Ring Builders stood on this level and were considered the dominant species of the Milky Way galaxy.