The Year Ahead
Here I list my predictions in response to the 2023 Prediction Contest from Scott Alexander. I was playing in blind mode, so all of these responses were created with minimal responses without consulting prediction markets and with no more than a bit of quick background research on the questions. I recorded my impressions and results of my research used to generate the numerical prediction to serve as a check next year to see how right (or, more likely, wrong) my contemporary thinking was. Do note that these responses were all created in less than 5 minutes as per the rules of the competition, so do not take any of them as a definitive statement on the issue which could only be come to through far more extensive research. I have omitted the text describing the resolution conditions (which you can find on Scott’s form) for brevity.
Section 1: World
1. Will Vladimir Putin be President of Russia? 95%: with no election in Russia this year and the relatively stable situation in Ukraine, I think that de Neufville's basic reasoning still holds.
2. Will Ukraine control the city of Sevastopol? 15%: Unlikely given that the city can be resupplied by sea; also I am sceptical of Ukraine's ability to take Crimea while maintaining international support.
3. Will Ukraine control the city of Luhansk? 20%: Ukraine has shown ability to take ground in east however Russian supply lines are short to Luhansk and they have held it against attack for 8 years already.
4. Will Ukraine control the city of Zaporizhzhia? 80%: Ukraine currently controls Zaporizhzhia but it is on the left bank of the river, meaning it is in comparison to eg. Kherson relatively exposed. Russian supply lines are quite stretched in this region so Russia would have to have quite a successful offensive to take it.
5. Will there be a lasting cease-fire in the Russia-Ukraine war? 30%: Right now both sides could not even agree to Christmas cease-fires, so I see this as unlikely.
6. Will the Kerch Bridge be destroyed, such that no vehicle can pass over it? 30%: Both rail and road lines have to be destroyed by the deadline. If the Ukrainians were able to knock both out, one must ask why they didn't do it the first time they tried.
7. Will an issue involving a nuclear power plant in Ukraine require evacuation of a populated area? 8%: Most reactors in Ukraine are either not currently near the front line, or are deactivated (Zaporizhzhia). Thus there would need to be a large shift in the distribution of fighting probably through Russian advances for this to happen, and on top this offensive would need to end up causing a nuclear incident requiring evacuation - fairly low likelihood of both happening in sequence. Alternatively there could be a long range Russian strike on a nuclear facility but this gets into the realm of nuclear escalation which, while worrying, is quite unlikely.
9. Will a nuclear weapon be used in war (ie not a test or accident) and kill at least 10 people? 2%: There has been sabre rattling but historically there is a pretty low probability of going nuclear and it is not obvious what tactical objectives this would achieve on the Russian side, unless Ukraine advances into Russia itself which it has not shown a willingness to do.
10. Will China launch a full-scale invasion of Taiwan? 5%: A blockade and negotiations are more likely to precede this, as an invasion would be incredibly messy, and China at the moment is in a mood for detenté in the wake of Covid-Zero damaging the economy.
11. Will any new country join NATO? 80%: As of Jan 9th, Turkey is still rumbling about extracting concessions. I think these negotiations can still fall apart.
12. Will Ali Khameini cease to be Supreme Leader of Iran? 10%: He is relatively old so the actuarial tables are simply not good on this one, coupled with the nonzero coup probability.
13. Will any other war have more casualties than Russia-Ukraine? 40%: My starting point is that the major possible flashpoints are the Middle East, particularly any major war along the Iran-Saudi axis, Taiwan, ethnic conflicts in Africa (such as the situation with Tigray), and Syria (e.g. Turkish action to create a safe zone).
14. Will there be more than 25 million confirmed COVID cases in China? 99%: unsure about the OWID tracker but officials are claiming much more than this.
Section 2: US/UK Politics
15. Will prediction markets say Joe Biden is the most likely Democratic nominee for President in 2024? 80%: If Biden runs, I give this a 60% chance, as the field will likely be cleared for him but the probability for R's probability will be split between at least Trump and DeSantis. I think there is a 75% chance of Biden running at this point - historically presidents run for re-election, but giving a slight discount for Biden being very old. If he doesn't run, obviously there is a 0% chance.
16. Will prediction markets say Gavin Newsom is the most likely Democratic nominee for President in 2024? 10%: You have to both believe that Biden doesn't run and that Newsom becomes the frontrunner.
17. Will prediction markets say Donald Trump is the most likely Republican nominee for President in 2024? 60%: DeSantis is riding high right now after the midterms, but I have read previously that if other candidates enter the field it is likely to dilute his support more than Trump's. Furthermore Trump is ahead in polls even at a high point for DeSantis.
18. Will prediction markets say Ron DeSantis is the most likely Republican nominee for President in 2024? 25%: Splitting difference on previous question and leaving some probability for another candidate to emerge.
19. Will the Supreme Court rule against affirmative action? 90%: All the current rumblings are that they will.
20. Will there be any change in the composition of the Supreme Court? 5%: All justices are quite young and there is no partisan incentive for anyone to retire
21. Will Donald Trump make at least one tweet? 60%: When Trump is explicitly running for president, he will want to maximise his chances.
22. Will Joe Biden have a positive (approval minus dispproval) rating? 20%: It does seem to be trending that way right now, but reversion to the mean and polarisation during a re-election campaign make this become less likely.
23. Will Donald Trump get indicted on criminal charges? 20%: Up to the DOJ but they likely don't want to look like they are pursuing a witch hunt against Trump.
24. Will a major US political figure be killed or wounded in an assassination attempt? 10%: Briefly looking into US assassinations (attempts for just wounds are not easy in my brief research to find good data for), this seems quite unlikely.
25. Will Rishi Sunak be Prime Minister of the UK? 75%: with no incentive to call a GE, and the conservatives unlikely to want to embroil themselves in another costly leadership spill, Sunak looks like a relatively secure if boring figure.
26. Will the UK hold a general election? 15%: Barring gross calamity, there is little incentive for Tories to call an election.
Section 3: Business And Economy
27. Will Elon Musk remain owner of Twitter? 80%: very hard to predict. The most likely reason for him to divest may be if they get into sufficient financial trouble regarding the debt position and Musk has a margin call (?) based on the fall in value of Tesla stock.
28. Will Twitter's net income be higher in 2023 than in 2022? 80%: They have cut many staff and seem to have stabilised the advertising situation.
29. Will Twitter's average monetizable daily users be higher in 2023 than in 2022? 95%: Based on Musk's claims about constantly hitting concurrent users are true and the fact that mDAU was growing already.
30. Will US CPI inflation for 2023 average above 4%? 30%: CPI is trending down currently and the 6-month average is below the level to achieve 4% inflation. We would have to see a considerable re-acceleration in price inflation. Given the Fed's hawkish tone, this is unlikely to come from monetary policy. A more likely scenario for price increases would be a geopolitical shock. Scenarios for this seem to be: Chinese re-acceleration in oil demand due to re-opening, Iran-Saudi conflict both of which could push up oil, while a Taiwan blockade or similar could create a supply chain crisis. None of these are inconceivable but one of them needs to happen to push CPI back up.
31. Will the S&P 500 index go up over 2023? 60%: The Fed is only expected to push up interest rates by an extra percentage point or so and in fact is expected to start easing before the end of the year, so interest rates don't seem to be the likeliest source of further declines. However, there is a looming US recession risk. So a real economic decline could push down stocks of "real-economy" companies. However I think psychological buoyancy over the easing of monetary conditions is a big factor here.
32. Will the S&P 500 index reach a new all-time high? 20%: While the bruising experiences of the last year would make this seem unlikely, as mentioned previously we shouldn't under-estimate the jubilation that could break out upon easing of monetary conditions.
33. Will the Shanghai index of Chinese stocks go up over 2023? 70%: Re-opening makes this much more likely but there are apparently been mini-bull markets already in some sectors and it sounds like there is real economic risk.
34. Will Bitcoin go up over 2023? 40%: There is a pretty high chance of blow ups, and monetary conditions are unlikely to end up being significantly looser by the end of the year.
35. Will Bitcoin end 2023 above $30,000? 20%: The route to this seems similar to the aforementioned potential stock-market machinations (a new bubble driven by lowering rates).
36. Will Tether de-peg? 30%: The story around Tether is weird, given that it does seem that they were making questionable bets with deposited USD assets but have thus far survived. Given that yet another market fall is less likely as inflation is coming down and rates are likely to peak, I think it is more likely than not that they don't blow up, but we will see...
37. Will the US unemployment rate (now 3.7%) be above 4% in November 2023? 60%: Likely recession globally and in the US but the US labour market is still quite tight, hard to predict but more likely than not it will creep above that figure.
38. Will any FAANG or Musk company accept crypto as a payment? 90%: Tesla already does this, so the question is only whether they will backtrack.
Section 4: Science And Tech
39. Will OpenAI release GPT-4? 80%: there are significant rumblings and rumours about this, I think the question becomes mostly about timing.
40. Will SpaceX's Starship reach orbit? 80%: It seems that they are likely to do it early in the year, so something would have to go quite wrong for this not to happen.
41. Will an image model win Scott Alexander’s bet on compositionality, to Edwin Chen’s satisfaction? 40%: Most of the ambiguity around this comes down to the resolution of the question.
42. Will COVID kill at least 50% as many people in 2023 as it did in 2022? 60%: China's re-opening would appear to make this much more likely despite the drop in mortality worldwide post-omicron.
43. Will a new version of COVID be substantially able to escape Omicron vaccines? 20%: Based on the fact that the original strain from Hubei was used to produce the original vaccines, and the magnitude of escape described did not happen in the first two years of the pandemic, I would rate this as relatively unlikely.
44. Will Google, Meta, Amazon, or Apple release an AR headset? 80%: Apple - announcement likely mid this year. Google - apparently not till '24. Amazon - doesn't seem like they have any product in an advanced stage of development. Meta - ambiguous but it seems like they already pushed out their initial attempt at AR-ish device. So any such release seems most likely to come from apple.
45. Will an ordinary person be able to take a self-driving taxi from Oakland → SF during rush hour? 30%: Hard to say but seems like they are being quite cautious with the rollout in my quick googling, and both expansion of the area and times would be needed.
46. Will a cultured meat product be available in at least one US store or restaurant for less than $30? 20%: Both regulatory approval will be needed and either reduction in the cost of production or selling below cost.
47. Will a successful deepfake attempt causing real damage make the front page of a major news source? 20%: It seems conceivable that as the next US election cycle ramps up and image and video get better that this could become a storyline.
48. Will WHO declare a new Global Health Emergency? 20%: Apparent base-rate.
49. Will AI win a programming competition? 25%: It seems that the best model right now is AlphaCode and it is at the median level of performance in programming competitions. It needs to improve and these results are new so it may take more time but is within reach with current techniques.
50. Will someone release "DALL-E, but for videos"? 70%: Imagen Video and a similar model from Meta already can do this, but not to a satisfactory level. The question then becomes about rate of progress and resolution of the question - hard to say but I am optimistic given the previous timeline going from latent diffusion models working to having Imagen Video at all.