Sentinel minutes for week #18/2024


Forecasters did not anticipate events spiraling into global catastrophes this week.

International and domestic politics.

Russia-Ukraine: Russia has said that a peace conference aimed at finding ways to end the war in Ukraine is pointless because it hasn’t been invited by Switzerland. Forecasters did, however, think it was interesting that Ukraine is pushing hard for China to attend the conference. Forecasters continue to believe that the war in Ukraine is highly unlikely to end this year and that the risk of a nuclear detonation remains elevated (but still extremely unlikely) as a result.

  • The head of the European Council has also said that the Russia-Ukraine war boosts the case for Ukrainian membership of the EU, but forecasters think it exceedingly unlikely (<1%) that this happens within the next 12 months.
  • By 2030, forecasters thought there was around a 10% chance that Ukraine would be admitted to the EUf, given that the war has not ended and that accession typically takes several years (along with fears about increasing Eastern Europe’s clout within the bloc and the impact of Ukraine’s food exports on current members). Forecasters think that the chance of Ukraine joining NATO by 2030 is a bit higher, at around 20% (range: 15%-25%).
  • Forecasters think it very likely that at least one country will join the EU by 2030.
  • Forecasters also speculated that the risk of Ukraine being invaded by Russia if it was an EU member back in February 2022 would have been significantly lower.

East Asia: Taiwan says that Chinese planes crossed the Taiwan Strait’s median line. Chinese military aircraft now regularly cross it, so forecasters did not see this as a significant escalation. Meanwhile, the Philippines summoned the Chinese envoy after China used water cannon against Filipino vessels that were on their way to the contested Scarborough Shoal.

Middle East: Turkey suspends all trade with Israel, citing a worsening situation for Palestinians. Also in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Houthis are threatening to attack ships and disrupt trade, though it has made similar threats before and its ability to act beyond the Red Sea is limited.

Sub-Saharan Africa: A cyclone is likely to strike Kenya and Tanzania. In Sudan, Darfur’s largest city, El Fasher, has been encircled by the RSF paramilitary. The humanitarian situation there is worsening.

Russian domestic politics: One of the Russian defence minister’s deputies was arrested, hinting at factional strife within the Russian government. Forecasters thought the fact that this deputy was one of twelve deputies made this story a bit less significant.

American domestic politics: In the ongoing hush money case in Manhattan, Donald Trump was found to be in contempt of court and fined $9,000, and was also threatened with jail time. Forecasters think that there is a small risk that jailing him leads to widespread disorder in the United States, but he likely wouldn’t be in jail for more than a few days..

British domestic politics: Scotland’s First Minister resigned and the ruling Scottish National Party are set to elect a new leader, John Swinney. This could have a slight impact on the likelihood of Scottish independence which could in turn have implications for the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent. However, forecasters think the likelihood that Scotland becomes independent by 2030 is less than 10%.


AI: OpenAI appeared to be training a model called “gpt2-chatbot” on LMSYS, which is likely to be a model that is more advanced than GPT-4. Sam Altman himself cryptically tweeted about this model. More generally, some forecasters think that Altman has been sounding more optimistic about AI progress in the past week, expressing more confidence in the scaling hypothesis than in some other interviews he has given in the past few months, though it could be that his tone has changed but his actual views haven’t.


Avian flu: There was an outbreak of avian flu in India. Two doctors were quarantined, which raised the possibility that there was human-to-human transmission from patients to the doctors, but the doctors tested negative. Had there been human-to-human transmission of avian flu, it wouldn’t have been the first time, as there has almost certainly been limited, non-sustained transmission in the past.

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