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Tesla CEO Elon Musk arrives for a U.S. Senate bipartisan Artificial Intelligence Insight Forum at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 13, 2023.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON Three Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services have asked the Pentagon for information about SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, and whether he “directed the unilateral disabling or impediment of function of Starlink satellite communications terminals used by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in southern Ukraine in 2022,” or ever had the authority to do so.

Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois wrote a letter Friday to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to express their “serious concerns about whether Musk has personally intervened to undermine a key U.S. partner at a critical juncture.”

Their questions follow the publication of a biography of Elon Musk, who is CEO of SpaceX and automaker Tesla, and owner and chief technology officer of the social network X, formerly known as Twitter. In the book, author Walter Isaacson wrote that a Ukrainian drone submarine attack on Russian warships was disrupted by a disconnect from Starlink, ordered by Musk.

Excerpts from the book raised alarm bells in Washington, among NATO allies and in the Ukrainian capital. After they were published, Musk painted himself as a peacekeeper and wrote on social media that he did not disconnect Starlink over Crimea, but rather denied a request by Ukraine to provide it there. He wrote, “If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.” Isaacson has issued a correction to his biography stating that connectivity had already been disabled in the affected area, and that Musk had simply refused a request to turn it on.

Musk also argued, as he has in the past, that Ukraine should strike a “truce” with Russia. Musk’s “peace plan” argument was shouted down by Ukraine officials, politicians and Putin experts.

On Tuesday, in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Isaacson discussed SpaceX developing a military-grade version of Starlink, which would help resolve concerns expressed by Musk regarding the satellite networks’ use in war.

CNBC asked the U.S. Department of Defense several questions pertaining to SpaceX, including whether the department would be re-evaluating any of the company’s government contracts, whether Musk’s calls for a truce between Ukraine and Russia reflect the U.S. government’s position and whether Musk’s conduct, including taking personal meetings with Putin in the past, had been in line with the terms of contracts awarded to his company.

A spokesperson for the department, Jeff Jurgensen, told CNBC via email, “The Department does contract with Starlink for satellite communication services in support of our Ukrainian partners,” but declined to offer further details or answer the specific questions posed.

He added that the Department of Defense “continues to work closely with commercial industry to ensure we have the right capabilities the Ukrainians need to defend themselves — and more broadly — the kind of communication and space-related capabilities necessary to accomplish our own global missions and support our national defense strategy.”

Earlier in the week, Sen. Warren called for a Congressional probe of Musk and SpaceX. “Congress needs to investigate what’s happened here, and whether we have adequate tools to make sure foreign policy is conducted by the government and not by one billionaire,” Warren said Monday, Bloomberg first reported.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls for investigation into Elon Musk's Starlink

SpaceX is currently working to obtain a new license from the Federal Aviation Administration and approvals from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to resume test flights for its Starship Super Heavy launch vehicle from its Boca Chica, Texas, facility. An earlier test flight this year resulted in an explosion and a mishap investigation overseen and recently completed by the FAA.

The company plans to use Starship to launch and deploy its next generation Starlink satellites. Musk also envisions Starship taking astronauts and supplies to the moon, and eventually, Mars.

Read the full letter here.

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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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