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Ripple cryptocurrency is seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on June 4, 2021. (Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Jakub Porzycki | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Blockchain firm Ripple has launched a Japan and Korea fund, aimed at driving innovation on the XRP Ledger as it continues to expand its presence in Asia-Pacific.

XRP is Ripple’s native cryptocurrency which is powered by the XRP Ledger, an open-source, public blockchain built for corporations. Ripple uses blockchain and crypto to facilitate real-time, cross-border payments.

The funds will go toward supporting corporate partnerships, developer grants, startup investments and community growth, Ripple said Tuesday in a statement. The XRPL Japan and Korea Fund is part of Ripple’s commitment to 1 billion XRP aimed at providing financial, technical, and business support for developers, which was announced in March 2022.

“The launch of this fund is a testament to Ripple’s strong belief in the potential of Japan and Korea as pivotal regional hubs for blockchain innovation,” said Emi Yoshikawa, vice president of strategic initiatives at Ripple, according to the statement.

The expansion comes as the crypto industry faces a “hostile regulatory environment” in the U.S., Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse told CNBC earlier this month.

Ripple CEO: Crypto industry in the U.S. dealing with 'hostile regulatory environment'

Ripple said last year that Asia-Pacific is “one of its fastest growing regions” and that it will continue to “prioritize the region for adoption of its crypto payment services.”

In April, Ripple partnered with Tokyo-based HashKey DX to bring XRPL-powered supply chain finance solutions to the Japanese market. It also launched SBI Ripple Asia in 2016, a joint venture with Japanese financial services company SBI Holdings, to drive the adoption of Ripple payments solutions in the region.

Ripple said the XRP Ledger will be used for issuing official Expo NFTs for millions of attendees at the World Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan. Non-fungible tokens are unique virtual world objects that come in the form of artwork, audio or videos, and are stored and verified using blockchain technology

Ripple obtained a full license to operate in Singapore in October since establishing the city-state as its Asia-Pacific headquarters in 2017.

In April, Ripple announced it was launching a U.S. dollar stablecoin, which its president Monica Long said would “likely” happen this year.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in October dropped claims against Garlinghouse and co-founder Chris Larsen in its December 2020 lawsuit alleging Ripple had violated laws by selling XRP without first registering the token with the SEC.

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Tesla has downsized by at least 14% this year after Elon Musk said layoffs would exceed 10%

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Tesla has downsized by at least 14% this year after Elon Musk said layoffs would exceed 10%

Chief Technology Officer of X Elon Musk speaks onstage during the “Exploring the New Frontiers of Innovation: Mark Read in Conversation with Elon Musk” session at the Lumiere Theatre during the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity 2024 – Day Three on June 19, 2024 in Cannes, France. 

Richard Bord | Wireimage | Getty Images

Tesla’s hefty downsizing in 2023 has reduced its global head count to just over 121,000 people, including temporary workers, internal records suggest, indicating that the automaker has slashed more than 14% of its workforce so far this year.

The latest figure is not from precise payroll data, but from the number of people who are on Tesla’s “everybody” email distribution list as of June 17, a tally viewed by CNBC.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent an email to “everybody” that day. He told employees, “Over the next few weeks, Tesla will be doing a comprehensive review to provide stock options grants for exceptional performance.” He added that options grants will also be awarded to “anyone who does something outstanding for the company.” Tesla’s plan to reinstitute options grants, after previously pausing performance-based equity awards, was reported first by Reuters.

Tesla’s layoffs announcement landed in April, when Musk sent out a companywide email telling employees that the automaker would be cutting more than 10% of its staff. Layoffs at that point were already underway.

Bloomberg reported that Musk was aiming for a 20% staff cut. Musk indicated that the number could be even bigger. On the company’s first-quarter earnings call later in April, he said Tesla had reached an inefficiency level of 25% to 30% after “a long period of prosperity” that began in 2019.

“We’ve made some corrections along the way,” Musk said on the call. “But it is time to reorganize the company for the next phase of growth.”

In a filing for the fourth quarter, Tesla said its employee head count worldwide at the end of December was 140,473, a number that represents salaried and hourly staffers. The “everybody” email list includes temporary workers. At around 121,000, that suggests Tesla has reduced overall headcount by at least 14% since the end of 2023.

Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In at least one instance, Musk’s head-count reductions went too far. Tesla dismantled its Supercharging team, which consisted of hundreds of employees, including its leader, Rebecca Tinucci. The company later hired some of those people back, according to posts on LinkedIn.

The broader cuts coincide with a slippage in sales at Tesla as the company reckons with an aging lineup of electric vehicles and increased competition in China as well as brand deterioration that a recent survey attributed partly to Musk’s “antics” and “political rants.” For the first quarter, Tesla reported a 9% drop in annual revenue, the biggest decline since 2012.

Across the auto industry, EV sales growth slowed this year after two years of rapid expansion. The slide was particularly acute for Tesla, whose Model Y was the top-selling car worldwide in 2023.

A Tesla employee, who asked not to be named in order to discuss sensitive internal issues, told CNBC that some factory workers are fearful more layoffs could follow in July, depending on second-quarter results.

A production and deliveries report for the second quarter is expected from Tesla during the first week of July.

Musk has promised investors the company will soon publish a new “Master Plan,” which would be his fourth, and that Tesla will reveal its design for a “dedicated robotaxi” on Aug. 8.

Tesla shares were little changed on Friday at $181.71. The stock is down 27% this year, while the Nasdaq is up 18%.

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Apple Intelligence won’t launch in EU in 2024 due to antitrust regulation, company says

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Apple Intelligence won't launch in EU in 2024 due to antitrust regulation, company says

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, US, on Monday, June 10, 2024. 

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple said Friday it won’t release three recently announced features, including its flagship “Apple Intelligence” AI product, in the European Union in 2024 due to “regulatory uncertainties” stemming from the bloc’s Digital Markets Act antitrust regulation.

Apple said in a statement that the features — Apple Intelligence, iPhone Mirroring, and enhancements to its SharePlay screen-sharing product — won’t be available to EU customers due to Apple’s belief “that the interoperability requirements of the DMA could force us to compromise the integrity of our products in ways that risk user privacy and data security.”

The EU passed the DMA in 2023, spurred by concerns that a handful of major technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Meta, Microsoft and TikTok parent ByteDance were acting as “gatekeepers” in preventing smaller firms from competing. Among other things, DMA requires that basic functionalities work across competing devices and ecosystems.

The interoperability requirements apply to iPhones and iPads. But Macs are affected by the DMA because iPhone Mirroring allows users to replicate the screen of an iPhone on the screen of a Mac.

The loss of the company’s AI product could be a disappointment to consumers. Apple Intelligence can proofread writing or even rewrite it in a friendly or professional tone. It can create custom emoji called Genmoji, search through an iPhone for specific messages from someone, summarize and transcribe phone calls and show priority notifications. The company also announced a partnership with OpenAI and a roadmap to other models being added to the platform.

Apple shares were largely flat on the news. Apple saw 2023 net sales of $94.3 billion in Europe, just under a quarter of its worldwide net sales. Apple Intelligence also won’t be available in Greater China, which accounted for $72.6 billion of its 2023 sales.

The company said it will work with the European Union “in an attempt to find a solution that would enable us to deliver these features to our EU customers without compromising their safety.”

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SoftBank CEO says AI that is 10,000 times smarter than humans will come out in 10 years

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SoftBank CEO says AI that is 10,000 times smarter than humans will come out in 10 years

Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Group Corp., speaks during the company’s annual general meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, June 20, 2024. Son sketched out ambitions to help create AI thousands of times smarter than any human, making his most grandiose pronouncements since the Japanese conglomerate began taking steps to shore up its finances following a series of ill-timed startup bets. 

Kosuke Okahara | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Artificial intelligence that is 10,000 times smarter than humans will be here in 10 years, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said on Friday, in a rare public appearance during which he questioned his own purpose in life.

Son laid out his vision for a world featuring artificial super intelligence, or ASI, as he dubbed it.

The CEO first talked about another term — artificial general intelligence, or AGI — which broadly refers to AI that is smarter than humans. Son said this tech is likely to be one to 10 times smarter than humans and will arrive in the next three-to-five years, earlier than he had anticipated.

But if AGI is not much smarter than humans, “then we don’t need to change the way of living, we don’t need to change the structure of human lifestyle,” Son said, according to a live translation of his comments in Japanese, which were delivered during SoftBank’s annual general meeting of shareholders.

“But when it comes to ASI it’s a totally different story. [With] ASI, you will see a big improvement.”

Son discussed how the future will hold various ASI models that interact with each other, like neurons in a human brain. This will lead to AI that is 10,000 times smarter than any human genius, according to Son.

SoftBank shares closed down more than 3% in Japan, following the meeting.

Son is SoftBank’s founder, who rose to prominence after an early and profitable investment in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. He positioned SoftBank as a tech visionary with the 2017 launch of the Vision Fund, a massive investment fund focused on backing tech firms. While some of the bets were successful, there were also many high-profile failures, such as office sharing company WeWork.

After posting then-record financial losses at Vision Fund in 2022, Son said that SoftBank would go into “defense” mode and be more conservative with its investments. In 2023, the Vision Fund posted a new record loss, with Son shortly after saying that SoftBank would now shift into “offense,” because he was excited about the investment opportunities in AI.

Son has been broadly out of the public eye since then.

He returned to the spotlight on Friday to deliver a speech that was full of existential questions.

“Two years ago, I am getting old, rest of my life is limited, but I haven’t done anything yet and I cried so hard,” Son said, suggesting he feels he hasn’t achieved anything of consequence to date.

He added that he had now found SoftBank’s mission, which is the “evolution of humanity.” He also said he has discovered his own purpose in life.

“SoftBank was founded for what purpose? For what purpose was Masa Son born? It may sound strange, but I think I was born to realize ASI. I am super serious about it,” Son said.

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