Russian x-risks newsletter Summer 2020

by avturchin1 min read1st Sep 20206 comments


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Russian opposition leader Navalny was poisoned. I read rumours that he was doing an investigation about the origins of coronavirus pandemic and its possible relation to the explosion in the Vector biolab Novosibirsk last fall. He visited Novosibirsk 5 day before the poisoning. But others said that he investigated a case of corruption there.

Meanwhile, there is an uprising against Belarussian leader Lukashenko. Putin can’t afford to lose Belarussia for military and prestige reasons and he said he prepared a group of the military to help preserve order in Belarussia. Long story short, this may escalate in conflict with Western countries, which may not like Russian occupation of Belarus.

Russia was first in the world who declared that its coronavirus vaccine is registered. But actual production is very small and it will still be tested in phase 3 until 2021. Many people said that they don’t believe it as its tested may be rigged and the results are not published. Anyway, the vaccine consists of two adenoviruses with fragments of coronavirus’ nucleotide. However, it was reported that some rich people had access to the vaccine as early as in April. Almost no deaths from coronavirus between establishment except one person, former governor, who started act against Putin - files a legal case against his resignation.

Meanwhile, coronavirus pandemic smoothly declines in Russia. Maybe even too smoothly which makes the data statistically improbable. For example, Moscow has between 650 and 700 new cases a day for a long time. However, the numbers started to grow again at the end of August and people believe rumours that the next lockdown will be from 20 of September.

A nuclear submarine capable to carry six Doomsday weapons torpedoes “Poseidon” has been launched.

Russian EMP-guns can now fire 10 km.

There was a new leak of radioactivity somewhere, may be connected with tests of nuclear-powered cruise missile.

In summer, a state-connected Russian AI company started searching specialists for in NLP and transformers, probably inspired by GPT-3.

Extreme heat hit in Siberia and affected permafrost. Permafrost in Russia and Canada contains a lot of organics which is equal into 1.5 trillion tons of CO2 But permafrost could also emit methane which is an even stronger greenhouse gas. It still not clear, which gas will be produced as it depends on the activity of microorganisms. Popsci: “Studies estimate that climate warming could release up to 15 percent of the carbon stored in permafrost this century, so understanding this risk is important.”

RAND wrote about Russian containment strategy.


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Belarus, Navalny, Coronavirus, 10km EMP guns, GPT-3: Don't seem quite existential risks, at least not in any obvious sense.

Autonomous nuclear armed submarines: Seems a legitimate X-Risk.

Russian Permafrost: Seems outside of Russian control, also not unique to Russia (Canada has same issue).

Can you specify which AI company is searching for employees with a link?

Apparently, Sberbank (state-owned biggest russian bank) has a team literally called AGI team, that is primarily focused on NLP tasks (they made benchmark), but still, the name concerns me greatly. You can't find a lot about it on the web, but if you follow-up some of the team members, it checks out.

A friend of mine works for Sberbank-related company, but not the Russiansuperglue as I know.

Why this name concerns you?

There are two biggest AI-companies in Russia: Yandex and Sberbank. Sberbank's CEO is a friend of Putin and probably explained him something about superintelligence. Yandex is more about search engine and self-driving cars.

I know, I'm Russian as well. The concern is exactly because Russian state-owned company plainly states they're developing AGI with that name :p

What would be the consequence of Belarus joining the western military alliance in terms of Russia's nuclear strategy? Let's say that in the near future Belarus joins NATO, and gives the US free hand in installing any offensive or defensive (ABM) Nuclear weapon system on Belarus territory. Would this dramatically increase the Russian fear of a successful nuclear first strike by the US?

US could put the same capabilities now in Estonia or Ukraine, so not much change in nuclear strategy here. However, Russia has important long distance communication center with nuclear submarinies in Belarus.

Also, Kaliningrad district will be much more vulnerable as well as export-import routes. In case of ground invasion, Belarus is also located strategically, and both Napoleon and Hitler quickly advanced through Minsk in Moscow direction.

The biggest problem for Putin is that if Lukashenko fails, he will be next. So he is not interested in his demise, but he wants to make Lukashenko as weak as possible and then annex Belorussia. He tried to do it last year, and he then hoped to become a president of a new country consisting of Belarus and Russia. Lukashenko said no, and Putin had to use his plan B: the change of constitution to remain in power after 2024.