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Soho Farmhouse.
Sam Shead

LONDON — Hundreds of the biggest names in European tech rubbed shoulders with politicians and wealthy investors on the lawns of the Soho Farmhouse private members club in rural England on Thursday, at what was one of the first major tech events to happen in over a year.

Attendees of the annual Founders Forum event included the former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron (who lives just up the road), ex-Finance Minister George Osborne, and the past and present U.K. tech ministers: Ed Vaizey and Oliver Dowden, respectively.

Google’s Matt Brittin and Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn, the European bosses of the Silicon Valley heavyweights, showed up, as did the general manager for TikTok in Europe, Rich Waterworth, who previously ran marketing for YouTube on the continent. 

Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zoom co-founder Eric Yuan beamed themselves in from the U.S. for video interviews, while DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman resurfaced after he exited the company in controversial circumstances to join Google. Mike Lynch, who is currently fighting extradition to the U.S. on fraud claims after selling his software start-up Autonomy to HP for over $11 billion, was also in attendance. Palantir co-founder and CEO Alex Karp was due to attend but had to drop out after the U.K. pushed back the date for its full lockdown easing.

“Everyone I want to meet in Europe is here,” reads a quote from Schmidt on the event’s website. “Founders Forum has emerged as the go-to destination for tech in Europe.”

The founders and CEOs of apps like Monzo, Wise (formerly TransferWise), Citymapper, and many more also turned up to network and listen to talks on everything from existential risks that threaten to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth, to hiring top talent in the field of artificial intelligence.

Elsewhere, venture capitalists from firms with billions of dollars at their disposal — such as Sequoia, Index Ventures, Atomico and Balderton — were also present, as were some of the U.K.’s most active angel investors.

For many it was the first in-person tech event they’ve been able to attend in over a year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Throughout the day, people kept saying how “weird” it was to be there as they fist-bumped and elbow-bumped one another. Everyone had to record themselves taking a Covid-19 test and getting a negative result in an app developed by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus before they were allowed to attend.

The ‘Davos of tech’

British Brent Hoberman, Co-Founder of PROfounders Capital, Chairman of made.com and Founder and Chairman of mydeco.com
Eric Piermont I AFP | Getty Images

Branded as “something like the Davos of tech” by The Guardian newspaper, Founders Forum is put on by serial entrepreneur and investor Brent Hoberman.

The former Eton and Oxford student, who co-founded Lastminute.com and the recently listed Made.com, is well-known for having one of the most impressive networks in the European tech scene and many of his friends and investments are invited to Founders Forum each year.

The organizers describe it as a private network of the world’s top-tier entrepreneurs, CEOs and investors from technology, media and digital.

Previous guests have included Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, former Apple design boss Jony Ive, broadcaster David Attenborough, and former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Prince William, a member of the British royal family, has also attended. 

Normally held at the five-star Grove Hotel, this year marks the first time Founders Forum has been held at Soho Farmhouse. Aston Martins, Maseratis, Range Rovers and Teslas could all be spotted in the car park on the day of the event. 

“To have an event there is crazy money,” a member of Soho House, which owns Soho Farmhouse, told CNBC, asking to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the discussion.

For some, one of the highlights of the day was witnessing British jet suit inventor Richard Browning flying around a few feet above the ground.

After being fed throughout the day, Founders Forum guests were treated to freshly-grilled lobster, and strawberries and cream in the evening. On their way home, they were given goodie bags containing products from the likes of Cowshed and Charlotte Tilbury.

Timothy Armoo, the CEO of Fanbytes, a company that helps brands advertise through social video, told CNBC he really enjoyed the event.

“The quality of the conversations remained very high which was quite pleasing,” he said.

“With this being the first major event that people have been to in a while, there is the danger that it becomes more of a ‘catch up’ session for friends but that wasn’t the case at all. Meaningful connections were fostered and that’s what you’re looking for when you go to these events. I also really admired how they handled social-distancing rules, people were respectful and the pre-process of taking tests was quite comforting.”

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Top Amazon exec says it’s a ‘myth’ robots steal jobs

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Top Amazon exec says it's a 'myth' robots steal jobs

A robot prepares to pick up a tote containing product at the Amazon Robotics fulfillment center on April 12, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

A top Amazon executive told CNBC Thursday that it’s a “myth” that robots and other technologies take jobs away from people.

Stefano La Rovere, director of global robotics, mechatronics, and sustainable packaging at Amazon, said that, rather than replacing jobs, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies are enhancing people’s roles.

He added that new technology is leading to the creation of entirely new job categories.

“It is a myth that technology and robots take out jobs,” La Rovere told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Thursday.

Amazon says that the introduction of new technologies has enhanced more than 50,000 jobs across its fulfilment centers in Europe.

It's a myth that technology and robots take jobs away, Amazon director of global robotics says

The e-commerce giant says it has installed more than 1,000 new technologies across its European fulfillment center network over the last five years, for an overall investment of more than 700 million euros ($751 million).

“Robots and technology help our employees … by reducing walking distance between assignments, by taking away repetitive motions, or [by] helping them to lift heavy weights,” La Rovere  said.

“In turn, our employees can learn new skills, they can learn new competencies, they can acquire new capabilities that allow them to progress towards their career objectives,” he added.

La Rovere added that, “Over the last years, more than 700 new categories of jobs have been created by the use of technology.”

He cited the example of his own team, the Amazon robotics and AI division, which is focused on bringing automation to Amazon’s vast network of fulfillment centers that are responsible for getting orders packed and ready for delivery to customers.

 WATCH: Factories are heading for a ‘dark’ future — and it’s not what you think

Factories are heading for a 'dark' future — and it's not what you think

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China remains crucial for U.S. chipmakers amid rising tensions between the world’s top two economies

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China remains crucial for U.S. chipmakers amid rising tensions between the world's top two economies

US-China chip war graphic

Wong Yu Liang | Moment | Getty Images

China remains an essential market for most American chipmakers despite Washington’s efforts to restrict chip sales to the country and amid Beijing’s push for self sufficiency in the semiconductor sector. 

Data from S&P Global showed that U.S. chip giants Intel, Broadcom, Qualcomm and Marvell Technology all generate more revenue from China compared with the U.S. 

The U.S. has passed a series of export controls starting in October 2022 aimed at restricting China’s access to advanced chip technology, particularly those used in AI applications.

“China remains an important market for U.S. chipmakers, and the U.S. restrictions on selling advanced AI chips to China have been designed specifically to allow most U.S. firms to continue selling most types of chips to Chinese customers,” Chris Miller, author of “Chip War,” told CNBC.

Used in a wide range of products, from smartphones to electric vehicles, semiconductors have become a top priority for governments globally. 

According to data from tech consultancy Omdia, China consumes nearly 50% of the world’s semiconductors as it is the biggest market for assembling consumer devices. 

U.S. chipmakers, which enjoy technological leadership over Chinese competitors, have been able to tap this demand as the U.S. export curbs are focused on some very specific products.

“There are still plenty of ‘high end’ chips with all types of allowable use cases that are good to go where U.S. based chip companies have the dominant, leading edge,” said William B. Bailey, lead technology, media, and telecommunications analyst at Nasdaq IR Intelligence.

Navigating export curbs 

U.S. chipmakers, even those with a majority of business in the U.S., such as Micron Technology, AMD, and Nvidia, have strived to serve their Chinese clients even in the face of export controls. 

When the first wave of U.S. restrictions came into effect late in 2022, Nvidia and Intel designed modified versions of AI chip products for the Chinese market. 

A year later, the U.S. updated the export rules to tackle these perceived loopholes. But, soon after, it was reported that Nvidia was working on a new chip made for China.

Intel has reportedly continued to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of laptop processor chips to U.S.-sanctioned Chinese telecoms company Huawei, thanks to an export license issued by the Donald Trump administration.

The company did not respond to a request for comment on their plans for the China market.

U.S. strategy to limit China's rise as a technological power is working, analyst says

AMD has also designed an AI chip for China but will need to apply for an export license after failing to get it past U.S. regulators last month.

Executives of Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia, had reportedly been part of a group that planned to lobby Washington against tighter chip restrictions in July last year.

The companies are also members of Semiconductor Industry Association, a major U.S. semiconductor trade organization, which released a statement around the same time requesting an easing of tensions and a halt on further sanctions due to the importance of the Chinese market for domestic chip companies.

Amid a tough policy stance by the U.S., China has also responded in kind. In May last year, chips produced by America’s Micron were banned from critical information infrastructure in China after failing a review by the country’s Cyberspace Administration. 

Micron is constructing a new assembly and test manufacturing facility at an existing site in Xi’an, China, as the country “remains an important market for Micron and the semiconductor industry,” a company spokesperson told CNBC. Production is estimated to start in the second half of 2025, they said.

Market share worries

China could catch up to U.S. in the semiconductor sector, says Insights & Strategy CEO

The Chinese government is “increasingly focused” on getting its firms to buy locally made chips, Miller said. “Unless foreign companies have a substantial technological advantage over domestic Chinese competitors, they will lose market share in China.” 

However, Phelix Lee, equity analyst at Morningstar, said it does not expect “an overhaul of the supply chain” even as Chinese firms could be innovating legacy chips found in everything from household appliances to medical equipment. 

Legacy chips are typically mature or lower-end semiconductors. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said about 60% of these chips are manufactured by China

According to Brady Wang, associate director at Counterpoint Research, in the AI GPU market segment, American companies such as Nvidia and Intel are estimated to have a technological lead of about three to five years over Chinese competitors.

“We believe China can still build up its local GPU supply chain for specific market segments, but the amount will be limited, and the cost will be much higher,” he added.

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Apple shares just had their best day since last May

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Apple shares just had their best day since last May

Apple CEO Tim Cook greets customers as he arrives for the release of the Vision Pro headset at the Apple Store in New York City on Feb. 2, 2024.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Apple shares climbed 4.3% on Thursday to a share price of $175.04. It is Apple’s best day since May 5, 2023.

Apple’s rise came during a strong day for technology stocks, especially those in artificial intelligence, as the Nasdaq Composite rose 1.77%.

Apple shares are down more than 5% so far this year. On Thursday, JPMorgan analysts wrote that sentiment over Apple shares is improving with hedge fund investors, partially due to its recent stock slide.

Despite some negative trends around iPhone sales in China, and recent reports of canceled projects such as its effort to build a car, JPMorgan analyst Samik Chatterjee said investors may be more comfortable with its current valuation after recent losses and the potential to benefit from AI.

The JPMorgan analysts predicted a strong iPhone sales cycle in 2026 due to forthcoming AI features. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told investors to expect an AI announcement later this year. That is expected to occur during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference event in June.

“Hedge fund investors are increasingly warming up to the opportunity of the AI upgrade cycle, but the uncertainty still pertains to whether the upgrade cycle starts with iPhone 16 in September 2024 or iPhone 17 in September 2025,” Chatterjee wrote.

Separately, Apple is also preparing new Mac laptops and desktops with next-generation “M4 chips” that emphasize AI, according to a report Thursday from Bloomberg. Apple declined to comment on the report. The current generation of Apple’s chips is called M3.

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