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U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left), leader of the incumbent Conservatives, and opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer of the Labour Party. The politicians traded barbs in their first head-to-head debate on Tuesday ahead of the July 4 General Election.

Pa Images | Getty Images

LONDON — British technology executives and entrepreneurs want the next government to focus on promoting skills around the development and use of artificial intelligence and growth-oriented fiscal measures.

Brits are set to head to the polls on July 4.

The business community has been calling on the two main political parties to push for economic growth, a regulatory environment that is accommodating to technology innovation and a long-term vision that can cement the U.K.’s position on the world stage.

They say that, whether it’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak or Labour leader Keir Starmer that makes it into Downing Street, the next government is likely to be one that keeps high-growth tech businesses’ interests at heart.

Upskilling in an AI age

One thing U.K. tech executives are pushing for is fostering innovation in artificial intelligence and cultivating citizens’ grasp on AI-centric skills — across multiple generations.

Skills that help us feel better equipped with large language models and other next-generation AI tools rather than losing our grip on these tools and becoming controlled by them should be a key focus of any government, top tech executives told CNBC.

Innovation is heading very quickly towards autonomous AI. We need to have the skills in this country … to be able to adopt and use it in a responsible way, with the right controls and protocols.

Zahra Bahrololoumi

U.K. and Ireland CEO, Salesforce

At Salesforce’s World Tour London, a tech conference where the U.S. enterprise software giant hosts several major customers and partners, promoting growth and prosperity with new technologies like AI was a key theme.

At a press conference on the sidelines of the event — away from the mascots with full-body suits of Einstein and Astro, the raccoon character that guides users around Salesforce’s customer relationship management tools — the firm’s U.K. boss spelled out what she wants from the next administration.

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“With any government, I will be specific and I will bang this drum: one in 10 of us feel equipped with AI. Innovation is heading very quickly towards autonomous AI. We need to have the skills in this country … to be able to adopt and use it in a responsible way, with the right controls and protocols,” Zahra Bahrololoumi, Salesforce’s U.K. and Ireland CEO, said in response to a CNBC question.

 “Any government appreciates that, most of the major parties do,” she added. “That would be my wish list — if there was one thing just to prioritize, [it should be] digital skills.”

Matthew Houlihan, senior director of government and corporate affairs for U.K. and Europe at U.S. enterprise tech firm Cisco, said the next government should seek to make the country a leader in innovation and emerging technologies like AI and quantum computing.

“It should also be an excellent time to review approaches to essential aspects of the U.K.’s digitising economy such as digital skills, tech adoption support and approaches to security to ensure that the benefits of digital technologies can be felt by as many people across the country as possible,” he added.

Political leanings

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Deputy leader, Angela Rayner, attend an event to launch Labour’s election pledges at The Backstage Centre on May 16, 2024 in Purfleet, United Kingdom. 

Leon Neal | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Signatories included several influential names in the world of U.K. tech: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Founders Forum co-founder Jonathan Goodwin, and Atom Bank CEO Mark Mullen.

The writers of the letter say that the U.K. economy has suffered from a decade of stagnation amid a lack of both political stability and a consistent economic strategy.

Britain’s Sunak has said it will “take time” for the general population to “really feel” upward momentum in the economy.

Data released earlier this year showed that U.K. gross domestic product rose by 0.6% between January and March after slumping into a shallow recession in the second half of 2023.

An end to uncertainty

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) and Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt (R) during a visit to BAE Systems on March 25, 2024 in Barrow-in-Furness, England.

Danny Lawson | Wpa Pool | Getty Images

“In the last two years, both parties have materially converged in terms of the fact that businesses are important for the country’s growth — business is important, fintech [financial technology] is important, entrepreneurship is important,” Rishi Khosla, CEO of British digital bank OakNorth, told CNBC.

“The strong desire is for whichever party that comes into power to stay the course on that, to make sure that they stay the course on the narrative but also on what they do, whether it’s immigration, whether it’s tax, and they don’t create environments that go against that for populist measures,” Khosla said.

Big on statements, short on detail

One current source of frustration for U.K. tech leaders remains the fact that neither of the major political parties have yet explained how they’ll boost business — let alone the entrepreneurial community and high-growth technology industry.

Tech bosses CNBC spoke with found themselves unable to point to specific policies and plans from either of the main political parties.

British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt recently unveiled a spate of new tax breaks and investments which he said would help to establish the U.K. as a world leader in high-growth industries.

Hunt hinted he’ll introduce new tax cuts if the Conservatives are re-elected, saying in an interview with The Telegraph that the priority will be “business taxes that boost investment,” as well as growth. He has refrained from offering further details on his plans, however.

Labour has previously committed to capping the headline rate of corporation tax at its current 25% rate, and confirmed it will maintain certain tax reliefs including for full expensing and research and development (R&D).

Labour says it will publish a roadmap for business taxation, if and when it is elected.

— CNBC’s Jenni Reid contributed to this report

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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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