Amazon.com announced Friday that it is cutting jobs at its Alexa voice assistant unit, citing a change in business priorities and a greater focus on generative artificial intelligence.
According to the email, the cuts will affect several hundred employees working on Alexa. A spokesperson declined to say how many people were actually affected.
“We’re shifting some of our efforts to better align with our business priorities, and what we know matters most to customers — including “This includes maximizing our resources and efforts focused on generic AI.” said in the email. “These changes are leading us to discontinue some initiatives.”
Amazon is scaling back jobs across a variety of divisions this month, including its music and gaming divisions and some human resources roles.
A spokeswoman said most of the jobs affected were in the device division, with some working on Alexa-related products in a separate unit. Many companies are shifting resources to generative AI, which can create software code and longer text responses from short prompts.
Alexa is a voice assistant that can be used to set timers, ask search queries, play music, or act as a home automation hub.
Reuters reported in September that morale at the device division had fallen due to concerns over what some saw as a weak product pipeline. In particular, people familiar with the matter pointed to the Alexa voice assistant, now nearly a decade old, which has failed to keep pace in the era of generative artificial intelligence.
Amazon said at the time that “suggesting that a few anecdotes paint a picture of reality for an organization as large and diverse as devices and services is inaccurate,” and that it stood by its products.
Amazon has said without providing figures that its devices and services business is not profitable.
Just last month the device unit got a new head, Panos Panay, who joined the company from Microsoft, replacing 13-year veteran David Limp, who is leaving to take over Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company later this year. Becoming prominent. Panay oversaw the development of the Surface tablet.
Amazon has struggled to generate any profit from Alexa, which many people use through Echo speakers or video screens. Most of the efforts to make money from it are focused on making shopping from Amazon.com easier.
The Seattle-based online retailer’s voice assistant products compete with offerings from Alphabet and Apple.
Amazon has cut more than 27,000 jobs at the company over the past year, part of a wave of US tech layoffs after the industry laid off massive amounts of people during the pandemic.
The latest cut comes even as Amazon reported third-quarter net income that far exceeded analyst estimates and revenue forecasts for the final quarter of the year were in line with expectations. The fourth quarter is the most important for Amazon, as it also includes holiday shopping.
In an email, Roush said he is optimistic about Alexa.
“Incorporating a new large language model into voice-forward, personal AI has been and continues to be a major scientific and engineering challenge,” he wrote, using another term for generative AI.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
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