Foxconn makes most of the world’s iPhones. Now its CEO wants to make EVs

Foxconn Chairman Young Liu poses on stage with an electric vehicle, the Model C, during the company's annual Tech Day in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 18, 2022.

Foxconn Chairman Young Liu poses on stage with an electric vehicle, the Model C, during the company’s annual Tech Day in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 18, 2022.Ann Wang/ReutersCNN — 

Certainly, Young Liu has heard the auto industry cliche that modern vehicles are “iPhones on wheels.” Cars and SUVs are packed with computer chips, sophisticated sensors, touchscreens and data connections.

Liu knows a lot about iPhones. As a manufacturer for Apple, the company he runs as CEO, Hon Hai Technology Group, better known as Foxconn, makes most of the iPhones in the world.

But now the company wants to try something new, designing and building electric cars.

The shift comes with significant risks. By Liu’s own estimates, cars have 20 times the components of phones. Many of them, from suspension components to windshield wipers and high-powered motors, smartphones don’t even have. And cars are far more regulated than smartphones, with rules that vary from market to market.

For Liu and for Foxconn, it’s a bold move. He has said that, for this plan to work, Foxconn needs to have about 5% of the global EV market by 2025. But there’s more than money on the line, although there’s plenty of that. There is also Liu’s – and Foxconn’s – reputation.

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And, of course, Foxconn has a history of labor issues in China, with workers at one point squaring off against police, that it will need to overcome to expand its business, as well.

But Liu needs to grow the company – and cars, as different as they might be from phones, are a huge part of that plan.

“Our revenue is as big as the GDP of some countries,” Liu said in response to questions emailed by CNN Business. “I had to think about what industries would drive growth in the future. The PC and smartphone business were quite mature.”

From mahjong to CEO

Based in Taiwan, Foxconn is already among the world’s largest companies. It has more than 1 million employees and operations in 24 different countries. It makes a wide – and growing – variety of tech products from touchpads to TVs for a variety of customers. Its largest and best known customer, though, is Apple.

Liu evidently knows how to take a calculated gamble. To make some extra cash when he was very young, Liu has told associates, he played mahjong, a complex game involving elements of strategy and luck. He could win game after game, he has said.

Foxconn Chairman Young Liu speaks at an event presenting the company's new technologies in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 16, 2020.

Foxconn Chairman Young Liu speaks at an event presenting the company’s new technologies in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 16, 2020.Yimou Lee/Reuters

After earning a master’s in computer engineering from the University of Southern California in 1986, Liu went on to found three different California tech firms. He retired in 2001 but, he said, he felt a little out of place.

“All my friends were older than me,” he said. “My youngest friend was 60 some years old.”

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Liu is well over 60 himself now, but, with dark hair and a slender build, he looks far younger. His affably nerdy smile seems at odds with the business style of a man who has founded several companies.

He joined Foxconn in 2007 as a “special assistant” to founder Terry Gou. Over just a dozen years, he rose to became chairman and CEO in 2019. The company was already huge, but Liu immediately started looking for ways to make it even bigger.

Triple play

Electric vehicles seem especially surprising for a technology company like Foxconn. Despite a few notable exceptions that have managed to break through globally – particularly Tesla – it’s not an easy industry to get into. But Liu sees the auto industry as deeply in need of what Foxconn can offer.

“When we studied the EV market, we find it is not vertically integrated enough,” Liu said. “The business model isn’t optimal compared to what we learned in the 30 to 40 years of experience in the [information technology] industry. We think the EV business model should be reinvented.”

Various EV models during Hon Hai Technology Day (HHTD23) in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 18, 2023. Foxconn showcased their EV line up, including their new Model N cargo van, and signaled mass production plans for Model B, a 'sporty and intelligent crossover.'

Various EV models during Hon Hai Technology Day (HHTD23) in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 18, 2023. Foxconn showcased their EV line up, including their new Model N cargo van, and signaled mass production plans for Model B, a ‘sporty and intelligent crossover.’Ritchie B Tongo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Foxconn is approaching the auto industry in essentially the same way that it does smartphone manufacturing. It has no plans to sell vehicles under the Foxconn name, or under that of Foxtron, an electric-vehicle joint venture Foxconn formed with the Taiwanese automaker Yulon. (Liu is also the chairman of Foxtron.)

Instead, its first EV model, just now entering production with sales to start in early 2024, is sold in Asia under Yulon’s Luxgen brand. The Luxgen N7 electric SUV will sell at prices starting around 999,000 New Taiwan dollars or about $31,000 US dollars. Liu said he already gave up his his Mercedes and is now driving an N7.

The N7 is a branded version of a crossover SUV Foxonn had previously unveiled as the Model C. Foxconn has also revealed several other vehicles that show the sorts of products the company could make for others. The Model B is a smaller crossover SUV. The Model E is a luxury sedan styled in cooperation with the Italian auto design firm Pininfarina. Foxconn also boasts that its Model V is the first Taiwan-made pickup truck while its Model T electric buses are already operating in Taiwan. Then there’s the Model N, a cargo van similar to GM’s BrightDrop vans or Rivian’s Amazon delivery vans.

The Luxgen N7 EV at the 2023 edition of the Hon Hai Tech Day (HHTD2023) in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 18, 2023.

The Luxgen N7 EV at the 2023 edition of the Hon Hai Tech Day (HHTD2023) in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 18, 2023.Walid Berrazeg/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

Rather than rely entirely on its own learning about the industry, Foxconn hired former Nissan chief operating officer Jun Seki to help strategize the company’s EV efforts.

“His connections are broad and deep,” Liu said of Seki. “Because of him, we have already hired industry experts in procurement and product areas, and we are hiring more.”

‘A robust global supply chain’

Other tech companies have also talked about getting into cars. Apple, Foxconn’s most famous customer, has had a barely acknowledged EV development program for years. Sony partnered with Honda to create an electric vehicle that will be built in Ohio in 2026. Chinese electronics company Xiaomi, best known for smartphone handsets, also plans to start producing EVs in a couple of years.

Foxconn is unique, though, in its aggressive pitch to the wider industry. Liu offers a value proposition directly to automakers, saying Foxconn can provide a range of services including designing, engineering and building vehicles.

A man takes photos of the Model B car at the Foxconn booth at 2035 E-Mobility Taiwan, an annual electric and autonomous vehicle trade show in Taipei, Taiwan on April 13, 2023.

A man takes photos of the Model B car at the Foxconn booth at 2035 E-Mobility Taiwan, an annual electric and autonomous vehicle trade show in Taipei, Taiwan on April 13, 2023.Ann Wang/Reuters

Given the struggles the global auto industry faced in 2021 trying to build cars as supplies of computer chips dried up, Foxconn could find a receptive audience, said auto industry analyst Bill Russo of Automobility Ltd. If there’s one thing Foxconn knows how to do, it’s how to source the sort of modern electronics automakers increasingly need.

That was a major factor for Monarch Tractor. Foxconn has been manufacturing self-driving electric farm tractors on a small scale for this startup company at a factory in Ohio. Foxconn was one of 16 companies Monarch had considered as a manufacturing partner, said Mark Schwager, president of Monarch.

“We cast a wide net because it’s a novel product that nobody’s really ever built before,” Schwager said. “We wanted a few elements that were really, really important to us. One was access to a robust global supply chain, and Foxconn is second to none with respect to electronics and their position [in that industry.]”

First customers

For now, besides Yulon, start-up companies, some formed in partnership with Foxconn itself, have been the outlet for Foxconn’s EV designs. For instance, there’s Ceer, a joint venture founded last year by Foxconn and the Saudi Public Investment Fund. This new automaker plans to begin selling electric vehicles in the Middle East beginning in 2025. The vehicles will be based on Foxconn’s engineering but will be sold under the Ceer brand.

Foxconn has made some publicly announced deals with truly major players in the auto industry. Foxconn and Stellantis recently announced a joint venture, SiliconAuto, to design and build computer chips specifically for electric vehicles. And Foxconn is finalizing an agreement to purchase half of ZF Chassis Systems, part of the German global auto parts supplier ZF.

Not all of Foxconn’s business relationships have gone smoothly. Last year, Foxconn purchased a factory in Lordstown, Ohio, from a startup EV pickup maker, Lordstown Motors. (Lordstown Motors itself had purchased the plant from General Motors in 2019.)

But in June 2023, not long after starting production of its trucks, Lordstown Motors declared bankruptcy. While there were several factors involved, Lordstown also filed a scathing lawsuit against Foxconn.

“This case arises from, and is based on, the fraudulent conduct of one of the world’s largest multinational manufacturing companies, which, over time, had the intended effect of destroying the business of an American start-up,” read the lawsuit’s opening sentence.

An unfinished Lordstown Motors Endurance electric pick-up truck is seen on the assembly line at Foxconn's electric vehicle production facility in Lordstown, Ohio, U.S. November 30, 2022.

An unfinished Lordstown Motors Endurance electric pick-up truck is seen on the assembly line at Foxconn’s electric vehicle production facility in Lordstown, Ohio, U.S. November 30, 2022.Quinn Glabicki/Reuters

In the lawsuit and in public statements, Lordstown accused Foxconn of ignoring their agreements and not following through on promised investments. The suit is still ongoing.

Foxconn denied the accusations at the time, calling them “false comments and malicious attacks.” Foxconn said it had been trying to have “constructive negotiations” with Lordstown to help “in finding a solution to its financial difficulties.”

Foxconn is now in discussions with Fisker Automotive to build a small, relatively inexpensive hatchback EV called the PEAR – an acronym for Personal Electric Automotive Revolution – at the Lordstown plant, where the tractor is being built. Fisker founder and chief executive Henrik Fisker has made outsourced manufacturing a key part of the business plan. The Fisker Ocean SUV is already being made in Austria by the contract manufacturer Magna.

Foxconn is now building EVs in Taiwan and, besides Lordstown, has plans for EV manufacturing in other countries, as well. Unlike small, easily shippable items like smartphones, automobiles are mostly built close to where they are sold to reduce shipping costs. That’s why companies like Toyota, Kia, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have large factories in the United States.

The Lordstown plant gives Foxconn a huge advantage in the North American EV market, said analyst Sam Fiorani of Auto Forecast Solutions.

“Companies like Magna have toyed with the idea of building a factory in North America for this purpose,” he said, “and Foxconn just happened to run into a plant that had that space.”

Labor struggles

As Foxconn moves into the EV market and adds new manufacturing capabilities, Liu has to ensure that the company’s well-known labor issues remain in the rearview mirror.

Just last year, hundreds of workers at a Foxconn facility in China faced off against police. The workers at the plant, which had recently been the site of a covid outbreak that forced thousands to flee, complained about health conditions in the plant and about promised pay they said was not distributed. Foxconn later offered to pay workers to quit and leave the site.

Foxconn had also been the target of earlier accusations of worker abuse in some of its Chinese factories. It’s something Liu appears weary of being asked about.

“For every proactive work and improvements we are doing in this area, we still get criticism about past issues,” Liu said in an emailed response.

The company has published on its website lengthy lists of employee welfare initiatives it has undertaken, it says, to ensure that workers are cared for. Also, to bolster its own efforts to improve worker relations, Foxconn has engaged third-party auditors to review the manufacturer’s treatment of its employees, said Liu.

But if Liu can lead his company through all of these challenges, in a few years you may be able to drive your car listening to music from a smartphone that were both made by Foxconn. And, in both cases, you probably won’t even know.

Apes recognize friends they haven’t seen for decades, new research finds

study on the social memory of apes

Apes at Edinburgh Zoo in ScotlandKate Grounds/Edinburgh Zoo

Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news on fascinating discoveries, scientific advancements and more.CNN — 

Apes can recognize old friends they haven’t seen for decades, according to new research, and it’s the longest-lasting social memory ever documented outside humans.

Researchers found that chimpanzees and bonobos were able to recognize photos of former groupmates more than 25 years after last seeing them in the flesh, with photos of old friends eliciting an even more positive response, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Senior author Christopher Krupenye, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies animal cognition, told CNN the research was inspired by his experience working with apes and sensing that they recognized him even years after their last interaction.

study on the social memory of apes

The study found that both chimpanzees and bonobos recognize old friends, even after decades apart.Kate Grounds/Edinburgh Zoo

In order to test this, Krupenye and lead author Laura Lewis, a biological anthropologist and comparative psychologist at University of California, Berkeley, used photographs of apes who had died or left groups at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, Planckendael Zoo in Belgium and Kumamoto Sanctuary in Japan.

The team selected individuals whom the participating apes hadn’t seen for time periods ranging from nine months to 26 years, who had high-quality images available on file, and noted what kind of relationship the participants had had with the individuals.

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Researchers then left two photographs — one of the ape they had known and another of a stranger — accessible to the apes, and used a noninvasive eye-tracking device to measure where they looked and for how long.

Results showed that the apes looked “significantly longer” at those they knew, no matter how long it had been since they last saw them, and even longer still at those they had been friendly with.

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Krupenye likens the experience to bumping into someone from high school in the street after not seeing them for years.

“It’s a very familiar experience for humans too,” he told CNN.

Ability to miss loved ones?

One bonobo, Louise, had not seen sister Loretta or nephew Erin for 26 years at the time of the test, but she “showed a strikingly robust looking bias toward both of them over eight trials,” according to a news release.

Researchers believe that apes’ social memory could extend beyond 26 years and could even be comparable with that of humans, who start to forget people after 15 years but can remember them for as long as 48 years, the release added.

Sutherland and Fiona, mother-daughter chimpanzees, are a part of the Ngogo chimpanzee community in the Kibale National Park in Uganda. Recently, scientists captured footage of Fiona holding a leaf out to her mother with no clear motive behind it.

Chimpanzees share experiences with each other, a trait once thought to be only human

“This seems to be approaching sort of life-long memory for these animals,” Krupenye told CNN.

This is also a new record for the length of social memory in nonhuman animals, after previous research showed that dolphins remembered individuals they hadn’t seen for 20 years, according to the researchers.

The results show that social memory is a more broadly ape trait that we share with our closest relatives, rather than something that evolved separately in humans, Krupenye said.

The study also raises the possibility that apes are capable of missing their loved ones.

“The idea that they do remember others and therefore they may miss these individuals is really a powerful cognitive mechanism and something that’s been thought of as uniquely human,” Lewis said in the news release.

“Our study doesn’t determine they are doing this, but it raises questions about the possibility that they may have the ability to do so.”

The authors hope the study will raise awareness around how poaching and deforestation can affect ape communities by separating groupmates, and boost conservation efforts.

This photo shows a chimpanzee female, Roxy, applying an insect to a wound on the face of an adult chimpanzee male named Thea.

Chimpanzees apply ‘medicine’ to each others’ wounds in a possible show of empathy

“We hope that these results will provide people more empathy with our closest living cousins,” Lewis told CNN, emphasizing that bonobos could go extinct in our lifetime.

Next up, the team plans to investigate if apes can recognize former friends as they look now, rather than when they left the group, as well as whether other primates such as gorillas and orangutans also possess long-lasting social memories.

“I would be very surprised if we didn’t see similar effects in other apes,” said Krupenye, who added that their method could be used to investigate social memory in other animals, such as sheep and dogs.

Where the battle to dominate AI may be won

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers the keynote address at Build, the company's annual conference for software developers, Monday, May 6, 2019, in Seattle.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers the keynote address at Build, the company’s annual conference for software developers, Monday, May 6, 2019, in Seattle.Elaine Thompson/APWashington, D.C.CNN — 

When you fire up an artificial intelligence chatbot like Google’s Bard or OpenAI’s ChatGPT, you’re really interacting with the product of three or four key ingredients.

One is the engineering talent it took to design the chatbot’s AI model. Another is the vast amount of training data the model chewed through to learn to respond to your prompts. The third are the advanced semiconductor chips used to perform the training, a procedure that can take months even with the fastest chips.

Now, cloud platforms are fast becoming the fourth essential ingredient in AI. They aggregate information from all of those in-demand semiconductor chips, provide online storage and many other services, renting out capacity to AI companies that need raw processing power and a place to keep their training data.

AI developers’ reliance on cloud services shapes the ebb and flow of the broader AI industry, putting cloud companies at the heart of a technology that’s poised to transform the way people work, play and learn.

Just a handful of major players dominate the half-trillion-dollar cloud market, including Amazon, Microsoft and Google. Now, policymakers and industry critics warn, Big Tech’s power in cloud markets may give it enormous and possibly anticompetitive influence over the future of AI.

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“I am deeply concerned that a handful of Big Tech firms dominate cloud computing and storage,” Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren told CNN. “Without commonsense regulation, those companies will entrench their dominance over AI, crush competitors, and put consumer privacy and safety, innovation, and national security at risk. We must protect competition in this critical industry.”

All three companies declined to comment for this article. Industry defenders argue that the sector’s leading companies compete vigorously for business and that their scale helps give AI companies a comprehensive solution for all their cloud computing needs.

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As with any essential industry controlled by large players, though, policymakers’ fears focus on the potential for inflated pricing, anticompetitive collusion, exploitative contract terms or other practices that may dictate what it ultimately costs you to use AI services or the types of products that make it to market.

The cloud market is limited to only a few major players

AI’s share of total cloud spend is expected to grow substantially as generative AI picks up steam.

Even as the public cloud market expands by leaps and bounds overall — the total spending may jump more than 20% to $679 billion next year, according to the market research firm Gartner — artificial intelligence could make up between 30% and 50% of that pie in as little as five years, Gartner and other industry analysts say.

Only a few cloud platforms can deliver the enormous amounts of processing that AI companies and their customers increasingly need, said Matthew Prince, CEO of the internet monitoring and security company Cloudflare.

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As AI developers and other businesses looking to use AI become more dependent on cloud providers, Prince said in an interview, “I think that they certainly are going to have a bigger role in picking the winners and losers” of the AI industry.

Today, artificial intelligence accounts for just a small portion, perhaps less than 10%, of the $563 billion public cloud market, according to the market research firm Gartner.

The top three providers of AI in the cloud are Amazon, Microsoft and Google by a wide margin, followed by smaller cloud providers including IBM and Oracle.

Regulatory scrutiny at home and abroad is growing

Governments around the world are taking notice of what is happening in an increasingly high-profile industry.

In the United States, both the Federal Trade Commission and President Joe Biden have highlighted concerns about competition in cloud markets as a potential problem for AI development.

In June, the FTC wrote that if one or more companies gains a stranglehold on the cloud industry or any other essential input into AI development, they “could wield outsized influence over a significant swath of economic activity” as “AI is increasingly becoming a basic part of daily life.”

Biden also alluded to those concerns when he signed an executive order in October addressing artificial intelligence.

Promoting a fair and open market for AI development, the order said, “requires stopping unlawful collusion and addressing risks from dominant firms’ use of key assets such as semiconductors, computing power, cloud storage, and data to disadvantage competitors.”

The order did not name specific providers or allege any misconduct by the industry.

The FTC and other global competition regulators have scrutinized the cloud industry in recent years with multiple wide-ranging studies into the sector.

An investigation launched by the UK government this fall, for example, zeroed in on Microsoft and its software licensing practices — which are largely unrelated to AI — while the FTC in March said it was looking into the industry alongside France, Japan, the Netherlands and South Korea.

Most of the government inquiries to date “converge on the same conclusion, which is that this is a tremendously concentrated market,” said Sarah Myers West, managing director at the AI Now Institute and a former FTC senior advisor on AI.

Part of the reason cloud platforms partner with AI companies is that when their products end up in the hands of consumers or businesses, that generates a constant stream of demand for even more cloud resources.

It can also allow large tech companies to collect even more data from businesses and internet users.

“They want to walk people into their cloud ecosystems, which is the straightest path to making a profit off of these tools,” she said.

What cloud critics say they worry about

There are a handful of specific cloud practices that raise potential competition concerns, according to some industry analysts.

One is the often-exclusive agreements that AI companies sign with just one or two cloud providers in exchange for substantial investments.

Exclusive deals for cloud computing is the norm for AI developers, said West, unlike other parts of the economy where using multiple cloud providers may be more common.

“A lot of the AI startups that are creating tools that are on the market today have already entered into exclusive licensing agreements with a cloud provider,” she said. “Even some of the smaller players all have relationships with a cloud infrastructure company and generally only run on that one [provider].”

Take OpenAI, for example. The startup’s ChatGPT tool that wowed consumers and kickstarted the current AI frenzy a year ago depends heavily on a partnership with Microsoft, which has committed $13 billion to the relationship in cash and free cloud computing usage.

“There is no OpenAI without Microsoft leaning in, in a deep way, to partner with this company on their mission,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told CNN contributor Kara Swisher in November, adding that if forced to by the recent governance crisis at OpenAI, Microsoft could do all of the startup’s AI work itself. “We have the people, we have the compute, we have the data, we have everything.”

Earlier this year, Amazon announced it was investing up to $4 billion in the AI startup Anthropic in exchange for a minority stake and “primary” cloud provider status. Just months earlier, Anthropic had announced a deal to use Google as its “preferred” cloud provider.

Some experts have warned that free cloud credits could allow powerful cloud companies to “lock in” AI companies as customers, and discourage competition by making it hard for them to leave or mix and match features from different providers.

“The further we go down that road, the harder it is to unbundle,” said Steven Weber, a professor at the University of California’s Berkeley School of Information, at an FTC roundtable this year.

And some deals between cloud and AI companies, as with Amazon and Anthropic, can also present opportunities for large tech companies to gain ownership shares in influential AI startups. The UK’s competition regulator is considering a possible antitrust probe into Microsoft’s relationship with OpenAI along these lines, suggesting that OpenAI’s recent leadership crisis may have led to a “relevant merger” that warrants an investigation. Microsoft has denied that it owns “any portion” of OpenAI, though it did recently gain a non-voting seat on the startup’s board.

Another practice that’s come under scrutiny are the fees some providers charge for withdrawing data from a cloud provider.

“It just makes AI more expensive,” Prince said. If AI companies could cheaply and easily move their data from one provider to another, “that would drive the cost of [AI] training down markedly …. my hunch is that you could cut the cost of training probably in half.”

How cloud companies defend their record

Cloud providers and their defenders argue that the cloud market is highly competitive, even if it may be concentrated due to how expensive it is to build cloud services at enormous scale.

“Since AWS began, it has significantly cut its prices for services such as computer processing, data storage, and data transfer,” Amazon told the FTC this summer as part of the agency’s industry study. “Competition among cloud and other IT providers is thriving, to the benefit of the U.S. economy.”

In a sign of how Google is trying to compete for AI cloud customers, the company this month announced a new generation of powerful cloud-based computing processors that Google said can train large AI models nearly three times faster than the last generation.

Google has said it used those chips to train its latest and most sophisticated AI model, Gemini.

“At Google Cloud, we are dedicated to being the most open hyperscale cloud provider, and that includes our AI ecosystem,” Google said in a blog post this year. “Through partnerships, we can help organizations more easily access and innovate with generative AI and large language models, apply fast-evolving AI and ML capabilities to address real industry use cases, and build a new wave of applications utilizing all of these capabilities.”

Cloud customers, including AI developers, are not naive when they sign agreements with a cloud provider, Microsoft has said.

“Customers negotiate extensively with service providers, including on price, storage capacity, contract length, and more,” Microsoft told the FTC. “This means that for cloud vendors, every project is also a pitch — if a customer is not getting the level of quality or value that it expects from a cloud vendor, that customer is going to turn to other alternatives. Cloud vendors have to compete accordingly.”

Exclusive agreements between AI companies and cloud providers can be a good thing, said Brandon Jung, vice president of ecosystem and business development for the AI startup Tabnine and one of Google’s earliest cloud platform employees.

“The plus is efficiency for developers and for deploying,” Jung said, adding that it could also enhance security to use a single vendor. “But I think it’s going to tie people more into the clouds.”

Critics say some of the concerns policymakers have raised are a misplaced byproduct of the suspicion governments have had now for years toward app stores, social media and e-commerce giants.

Many of those happen to be the same companies that run massive cloud computing businesses, said a person familiar with the thinking of major cloud vendors who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

“There is a general discomfort among regulators around the world with Big Tech and with digital markets, and a sense that the level of concentration in those markets is not good,” the person said. “They’ve taken on, unfortunately, some of those same fears and concerns and transferred them into their view of cloud computing, which has very different customers.”

Some AI companies have deliberately steered clear of any exclusive entanglements with cloud vendors.

Cohere AI, which provides AI models to business customers rather than consumers, said it works with all major cloud providers even though it has probably meant missing out on some funding opportunities.

“In our last [funding] raise, we were very deliberate about not taking any one check bigger than the others,” said Martin Kon, Cohere’s COO. “We’re not beholden to anyone that says, you know, ‘I’m the lead person you have to listen to.’”

But companies like Cohere are more the exception that proves the rule, said West.

“I think it makes clear that the cloud firms hold a tremendous amount of power in the market,” she said.

English superstar Harry Kane breaks another scoring record in Germany

TOPSHOT - Bayern Munich's English forward #09 Harry Kane celebrates scoring his team's 2:0 during the German first division Bundesliga football match between Bayern Munich and VfB Stuttgart in Munich, southern Germany, on December 17, 2023. (Photo by MICHAELA REHLE / AFP) / DFL REGULATIONS PROHIBIT ANY USE OF PHOTOGRAPHS AS IMAGE SEQUENCES AND/OR QUASI-VIDEO (Photo by MICHAELA REHLE/AFP via Getty Images)

Harry Kane celebrates after scoring for Bayern Munich on Sunday.Michaela Rehle/AFP/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Harry Kane continued his superb scoring form by breaking yet another record in Bayern Munich’s 3-0 win against Stuttgart on Sunday.

The 30-year-old Kane scored two goals in the game, his second making him the quickest player to reach 20 Bundesliga goals. The England international has reached the landmark in 14 games – that’s seven fewer matches than the previous record holder, Uwe Seeler.

It took Manchester City star Erling Haaland, then with Borussia Dortmund, 22 games to score 20 goals.

“That was probably the best performance of the season,” Kane said about Bayern’s win, not dwelling on his own achievements.

“Our intensity was very good in what was a big game. Everyone did well, including the players who came into the team.

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“We need the entire squad. Overall it was a very good performance today. We can be proud of that.”

Soccer Football - Bundesliga - Bayern Munich v VfB Stuttgart - Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany - December 17, 2023

Kane scored a header in the second half to become the quickest player to reach 20 Bundesliga goals.Angelika Warmuth/Reuters

Kane had to wait less than two minutes for his first goal of the match. The visitors gave the ball away cheaply in their own half which allowed Bayern’s Leroy Sané to break away.

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Lionel Messi of Argentina lifts the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Winner's Trophy during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar.

A year on from Qatar 2022, what’s the legacy of a World Cup like no other?

The forward kept his composure to navigate around Stuttgart’s onrushing goalkeeper before squaring the ball to Kane who tapped into an open net.

The striker then scored his second 10 minutes after half-time, directing a header into the corner of the net from close range.

Kane is now four goals clear as the league’s top goalscorer this season. Stuttgart’s Serhou Guirassy, who was kept very quiet on Sunday, is second with 16 goals.

Bayern defender Kim Min-jae scored the host’s third goal to secure an important win in the Bundesliga title race.

The Bundesliga champion now sits in second, four points behind Bayer Leverkusen having played one game fewer.

While it continues its bid to win a 12th consecutive Bundesliga title, Bayern will face Italian side Lazio in the Champions League round of 16 after the draw was made earlier on Monday.

Pope Francis authorizes blessings for same-sex couples

Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from his window, at the Vatican, December 17, 2023. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from his window at the Vatican on December 17.Guglielmo Mangiapane/ReutersCNN — 

Pope Francis formally permitted Roman Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples on Monday, in a significant shift in the church’s approach to LGBTQ+ people.

The blessings may be carried out providing they are not part of regular Church rituals or liturgies, nor at the same time as a civil union, according to a Vatican document approved by the pope.

The latest ruling fleshes out the opening the pope made to blessing same-sex couples last October and marks a shift away from a 2021 ruling from the Vatican doctrine office which barred any blessings, saying God “cannot bless sin.”

But since July 2023, the doctrine department has been led by Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, an Argentinian prelate and ally of Francis, who has struck a different tone to his predecessors.

“When people ask for a blessing, an exhaustive moral analysis should not be placed as a precondition for conferring it,” the declaration, authored by Cardinal Fernandez and another official, states. “The grace of God works in the lives of those who do not claim to be righteous but who acknowledge themselves humbly as sinners, like everyone else.”

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The new ruling says it is opening “the possibility of blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex” although says it is leaving decisions to “the prudent and fatherly discernment of ordained ministers.”

James Martin, a Jesuit priest who ministers to gay Catholics and who has been supported by Francis, described the ruling as a “huge step forward in the church’s ministry to same-sex couples” and a dramatic shift from the Vatican’s 2021 stance.

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The new declaration opens the door to non-liturgical blessings for same-sex couples, something that had been previously off limits for all bishops, priests and deacons,” he told CNN. “Along with many Catholic priests, I will now be delighted to bless my friends in same-sex marriages.”

The pope’s attempts to shift the church’s approach to LGBTQ Catholics began in 2013, when, in reply to a reporter’s question about gay clergy, he said: “Who am I to judge?”

Francis has indicated his support for the civil recognition of same-sex couples, and sought to move the Vatican away from some of the harsh language it has used in the past about gay people. His support for legal recognition of gay couples – as distinct from marriage – moved the church in a different direction to a 2003 Vatican ruling, which said it was “necessary to oppose legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

The pope has also offered his support to a nun from the United States, Jeanine Gramick, who has ministered to gay Catholics for years. She had previously been censured by the Vatican but recently met with Francis, who described her as a “valiant woman.”

The Vatican’s latest ruling says that offering blessings to same-sex and unmarried couples can be done “without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage.” The Catholic Church’s teaching is that sex should only take place within marriage, and the ruling says that the church cannot offer a “liturgical blessing” to same-sex or unmarried couples because it could “offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice.”

But the ruling states that the meaning of a blessing cannot be reduced “to this point of view alone” and would mean that “a pastoral gesture that is so beloved and widespread will be subjected to too many moral prerequisites, which, under the claim of control, could overshadow the unconditional power of God’s love.”

The pope, the ruling stated, has insisted that the church cannot simply become “judges who only deny, reject, and exclude,” and needs to have a broader understanding of blessings.

Francis’ openness to LGBTQ+ Catholics has been an element in the opposition he has faced from a small, yet vocal, minority inside the church. His latest move on blessings is likely to face resistance in these quarters.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

Thai farmer creates cat-themed art in his rice field

A lively cat image created by Thunyapong Jaikum, a thai farmer and artist, is seen in rice fields in Chiang Rai province, north of Thailand, December 16, 2023.

Thunyapong Jaikum’s field seen from above. Napat Wesshasartar/Reuters

A sleeping cat hugs a fish in a picture seen from the air, picked out in sprouting rainbow seedlings in a rice field in Thailand to illustrate a traditional proverb about abundance.

Farmer Tanyapong Jaikham and a team of workers planted the seedlings at various spots in the field in the northern province of Chiang Rai to depict cartoon cats, hoping to lure tourists and cat lovers.

“We’re expecting tens of thousands to come and see the art in the rice fields,” he said.

The process relies on GPS coordinates to position the seedlings as designated in an initial artist’s sketch, he said, with the plants changing tint as they grow.

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“It’s crucial to position them accurately, and the rice will gradually change shades over time,” he added, until in the final harvest stage, the rice straw yields the portrait of Cooper, the cat on which it was modeled.

Viewing towers are being built in the surrounding area to give visitors a glimpse of the artwork, which is based on a Thai saying, “There is fish in the water and rice in the fields.”

The world’s second largest exporter of the grain after India, Thailand aims to ship 8.5 million metric tons this year.

Young people wanting to learn more about the interaction of art and technology could also benefit from visiting the site, Tanyapong said.

“Previously, rice was mainly considered for consumption,” he said. “This approach allows us to develop tourism and agriculture simultaneously.”

European Court to rule over Roman Abramovich’s inclusion on EU’s sanctions list

PORTO, PORTUGAL - MAY 29: Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea smiles following his team's victory during the UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester City and Chelsea FC at Estadio do Dragao on May 29, 2021 in Porto, Portugal. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Roman Abramovich, pictured in 2021, announced he was selling Chelsea in 2022.Alexander Hassenstein/UEFA/Getty ImagesCNN — 

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will rule on Wednesday on whether to overturn former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s inclusion on the European Union’s sanctions list following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Billionaire Roman Abramovich was placed on the EU’s sanction list along with Russian officials including the country’s president Vladimir Putin, prominent business leaders and oligarchs in March 2022 shortly after the conflict began.

The European Union said Abramovich, “has long and close ties to Vladimir Putin,” and “has had privileged access to the president, and has maintained very good relations with him.” A connection, the EU said, allowed the tycoon “to maintain his considerable wealth.”

“He has therefore been benefitting from Russian decision-makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea or the destabilisation of Ukraine,” the EU claimed.

The EU also alleged that as “one of the leading Russian businesspersons” Abramovich provided “a substantial source of revenue to the Government of the Russian Federation.”

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To date, the European says almost 1,800 individuals and entities have been placed on the EU’s sanctions list and are subject to travel restrictions and asset freezes.

In May 2022, Abramovich brought a case against the EU seeking to annul his inclusion on the sanctions list, ECJ documents said.

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Abramovich claims there was “manifest error” in the European Union’s assessment and the decision to include him on the list is an “infringement of fundamental rights” and “unjustified interference” of his fundamental rights enshrined in EU law.

Documents of the Luxembourg based court also said Abramovich wants the EU to pay €1 million (£1.1 million) “to the charitable foundation for victims of conflicts which is being established in connection with the sale of Chelsea FC” for reputation damages.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM:  Chelsea striker Arjen Robben (C) holds the Barclay's Premiership trophy aloft as he rides on an open-top bus with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (C front), Eidur Gudjohnsen (L), Frank Lampard (2nd R) and John Terry (2nd R front) and other teammates during a parade  in west London 22 May  2005. Chelsea won the Premiership for  the 2004/2005 season , their first league trophy in 50 years.   AFP PHOTO  / ODD ANDERSEN  (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Abramovich (front center), pictured here in 2005, enjoyed a lot of success at Chelsea.Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

In March 2022, Abramovich announced that he was selling Chelsea Football Club and he had “instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated,” adding that “the foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine.”

Last May, in a deal worth $5 billion, Chelsea was sold to an ownership group led by Todd Boehly, of which $3.08 billion would be donated to Abramovich’s charitable cause.

Last week the UK’s Europe Minister Leo Docherty told a parliamentary committee hearing “the proceeds from the sale are frozen in a UK bank account,” and that the government was “now going through a process of independent experts establishing a foundation to manage the money.”

“The key difference between the Government and those who have been involved” in establishing the foundation, “is whether the funds get used inside Ukraine or for Ukrainians outside of Ukraine,” Docherty told the hearing.

Docherty added that the UK government wants “to have this money deployed as quickly as possible to the benefit of Ukrainians inside Ukraine.”

Abramovich also appears on the UK’s sanctions list.