The Amazon Echo Show 8 smart home device is unveiled during the Amazon Devices and Services event at the HQ2 campus in Arlington, Virginia, United States, Wednesday, September 20, 2023. Amazon.com Inc. presented a insight into a push toward generative artificial intelligence. with new features for its Alexa voice assistant. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Amazon on Friday began cutting “several hundred” jobs in its Alexa division as part of a broader belt-tightening at the company that has been underway since last year, the company confirmed.
Daniel Rausch, Amazon’s vice president for Alexa and Fire TV, sent a memo to employees informing them of the job cuts, according to a copy of the memo shared by an Amazon spokesperson.
“As we continue to invent, we are shifting some of our efforts to better align with our business priorities and what we know is most important to customers, including maximizing our resources and our efforts focused on Generative AI,” Rausch wrote in the memo. , which was reported earlier by GeekWire. “These developments lead us to abandon certain initiatives, which results in the elimination of several hundred positions.”
Amazon did not specify which initiatives Alexa was ending as a result of this decision.
The company will contact affected employees in the United States and Canada on Friday. Employees in India will be notified next week, while the timeline in other regions depends on local regulations, Rausch said.
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has been on a cost-cutting journey since last year, given the economic downturn and slowing growth in its core retail business. The company made the largest layoffs in its history, eliminating more than 27,000 jobs, and ended many of its least profitable initiatives. Amazon previously cut staff in its devices and services division, which includes Alexa.
Since its launch in 2014, Amazon has invested heavily in Alexa and assigned top talent to develop the technology, largely under the leadership of Jeff Bezos, who first launched Alexa and who firmly believed that voice would play a key role in how people interact with computers in the future. At one point, Amazon had 5,000 people working on Alexa and Echo.
Alexa and similar digital assistants were once a revolutionary technology, but they face growing competition from generative AI and chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. In September, Amazon rolled out updates to Alexa related to generative AI, such as writing messages on behalf of users. The unit overseeing Alexa also has a new boss, after longtime device chief Dave Limp left to join Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin. Limp was replaced by veteran Microsoft executive Panos Panay.
Rausch said Amazon remains “encouraged by the progress we’re making with Alexa,” noting that users have interacted with the virtual assistant “tens of millions of times per hour,” and that there are more than 500 millions of Alexa devices in consumers’ homes.
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