The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Stephen Hawking says that ‘aggression,’ humanity’s greatest vice, will destroy civilization

British scientist Stephen Hawking arrives on the red carpet for the 2015 British Academy Film Awards ceremony at The Royal Opera House in London on Feb. 8. (Facundo Arrizabalaga/European Pressphoto Agency)

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has a long list of things that will bring doom and destruction to the human race. Add one more to that list: human aggression.

Hawking was asked last week what he believed was humanity’s greatest shortcoming. He said that human beings continue to be stupidly aggressive — long after the evolutionary benefit of that kind of behavior has gone away.

“The human failing I would most like to correct is aggression,” said Hawking, according to CNET. “It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, to get more food, territory or partner with whom to reproduce, but now it threatens to destroy us all.”

Specifically — and Hawking probably isn’t wrong about this — aggression combined with nuclear capabilities could spell “the end of civilization, and maybe the end of the human race.”

[Stephen Hawking just got an artificial intelligence upgrade, but still thinks AI could bring an end to mankind]

Scared yet? Hawking, a brilliant theoretical physicist, and the subject of the Oscar-nominated film “The Theory of Everything,” is a man whose thoughts on the biggest — and most depressing — topics of our day are in high demand.

Over the years, Hawking has argued that humans face the threats from machines, aliens, and now ourselves.

Late last year, he said that Artificial Intelligence could end up destroying the world.

[The 12 threats to human civilization, ranked]

The great irony, of course, is that Hawking, who has the motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease and is paralyzed an unable to speak, is now capable of communicating verbally thanks to the help of an advanced artificial intelligence program developed for him by Intel. 

“Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it will take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate,” Hawking warned. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”

And let’s not forget, of course, aliens.

“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans,” he said in 2010, according to the Times of London. 

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk warned that artificial intelligence could be our biggest existential threat and believes there should be some regulatory oversight at the national and international level, while speaking at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium in October 2014. (Video: MIT Dept. of Aeronautics and Astronautics)