Sentinel minutes for week #25/2024


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


Middle East

Israel’s foreign minister said that a decision on all-out war with Hezbollah is near. Though the annual base rate for an Israeli war in Lebanon is low (2-3% since Israel was founded in 1948), team members estimated the chance of an Israeli offensive in Lebanon by the end of 2024 to be roughly 56% (range: 45%-62%). This was based on the minister’s statement itself, remarks by the US Secretary of State that Israel is “serious” about going into Lebanon, and preparations being made by residents and institutions on the Israel-Lebanon border.

The US is concerned that Israel’s air defenses could be overwhelmed during such a war. However, forecasters think it very unlikely (roughly a 7% chance, on average) that Iran will launch another barrage of missiles and drones at Israel by the end of 2024, despite the potential to exploit gaps in Israel’s defenses should such a war materialize. Forecasters think it even less likely (roughly a 2% chance, on average) that the US will kill 20 or more Hezbollah fighters by the end of 2024, which would signify that they are directly involved in any such war.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, said that Cyprus could become a target if it allows Israel to use its territory during a war. Cyprus subsequently stressed its neutrality.

Iran continues to ramp up its enrichment of uranium and its nuclear capabilities more generally. The expansion of one of its facilities could allow it to accumulate several nuclear bombs’ worth of nuclear fuel every month. US and Israeli intelligence agencies also met to discuss their findings concerning the development of Iran’s computational modeling capabilities, which could assist with the construction of a nuclear weapon.

A reformist candidate is running in Iran’s Presidential election and urging voters not to boycott it. Conservatives in Iran seem sufficiently worried that some of the conservative candidates may drop out to avoid splitting the vote. A reformist President would be more likely to successfully resurrect the Iran nuclear deal.

Eastern Europe and Asia-Pacific

Russia and North Korea signed a defense pact following Putin’s first visit to Pyongyang in 24 years. South Korea, in turn, suggested that it could start supplying weapons to Ukraine, which provoked a furious response from Russia (forecasters noted that South Korea has a lot of hardware expertise). Poland also looks set to sign another arms agreement with South Korea.

China is planning to build a railroad through Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in an attempt to bypass Russia and improve its influence in a region traditionally dominated by Russia.

The Philippines accused China of disrupting a resupply mission in the disputed South China Sea. However, it did not consider invoking a mutual defense treaty with the United States. Some experts suggested that Chinese attacks on Philippine boats are meant to provoke the United States and prepare for possible military action against Taiwan.

NATO’s chief indicated that the alliance may deploy more nuclear weapons to combat the threat from Russia and China. He also said that a record number of NATO allies are meeting their defense spending targets. The Kremlin called the remarks about nuclear weapons an escalation of tensions.

Twenty-six Ukrainian pilots will be trained by France to fly F-16s. The jets may be used by the Ukrainians for the first time this summer, despite previous fears that their use would be seen as a provocation.

Putin’s purge in the Russian defense ministry continues. He has now appointed a relative to a position in the ministry.


H5N1 bird flu continues to spread in dairy cattle and other mammals in the US. At least 117 dairy cattle herds have been infected, and 36 more house mice in New Mexico have also tested positive. Because workers and vehicles travel between farms, it is very likely that humans are spreading the virus, sometimes even back to birds on poultry farms. Meanwhile, researchers in Germany have found that H5N1 strains in Europe could infect dairy cattle just as easily as US cattle strains, showing that the virus could potentially jump to cattle elsewhere just as easily.

Forecasters judge there to be a non-negligible risk that H5N1 becomes COVID-level or worse (in terms of excess deaths) within the next 10 years. In aggregate, forecasters judge there to be a 9% probability that it becomes COVID-level or worse within the next 5 years, and a 20% probability within the next 10 years. Although the world is better prepared compared to COVID-19 when it comes to scientific understanding of H5N1 as well as vaccines and therapeutics, forecasters expressed concern that society would be less willing to take the necessary pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical countermeasures in the event of a H5N1 pandemic due to a lack of public trust in health authorities.

Populations are getting at least 13 illnesses more often now than before the COVID pandemic. Some of these increases can be attributed to falling vaccination rates; climate change and “immunity debt” are also proposed as causes. Some illness rates started increasing before the pandemic. It is also possible that repeated Covid infections have contributed to increased susceptibility to infectious disease.


Claude Sonnet 3.5 was released by Anthropic. It is likely the most powerful AI model currently available to the public and narrowly beats GPT-4o on several benchmarks that were tested. It was given pre-deployment testing by the UK’s AI Safety Institute, who also shared their results with their US counterpart.

Ilya Sutskever, formerly the Chief Scientist at OpenAI, founded Safe Superintelligence Inc. Forecasters noted that another for-profit AI company may further strengthen race dynamics.

It is also notable that Safe Superintelligence Inc has an office in Tel Aviv. This could indicate that Israel’s government will become interested in AGI—if it isn’t already. If so, this effort could eventually become the seed for a possible Israeli national lab. In this context, it is concerning that Israel is not party to treaties that aim to control weapons of mass destruction, like the Biological Weapons Convention, so this could sink any attempt to create a bilateral or multilateral treaty to mitigate the potential dangers of AI.

The US Pentagon is commissioning swarms of cheap kamikaze drones. The linked article and corresponding announcement are ambiguous about whether these will be AI-powered, but similar designs in Ukraine are indeed autonomous. This is interesting because it shows that the Future of Life Institute’s killer robot open letter and subsequent campaigns have been ineffective.

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