As Amazon readies Alexa to become as intelligent as advanced AI-powered chatbots like ChatGPIT, it is downsizing its Alexa division, impacting hundreds of employees in the US, Canada, and India, as disclosed in an internal email sent last Friday.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
According to Amazon’s Daniel Bosch, “As we continue our innovation journey, we are realigning our efforts to prioritize our business goals and customer-centric strategies, particularly in the realm of generic AI.” In an email received by geekwire, the Vice President of Alexa and Fire TV stated, “These changes involve discontinuing certain initiatives, resulting in the elimination of several hundred roles.”
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to Engadget the layoffs of “several hundred” employees in the division and expressed the company’s commitment to seeking alternative roles for the affected individuals. The spokesperson emphasized optimism for the future of Alexa, stating, “Despite being a tough decision, we are highly positive about the future of Alexa, which remains a crucial part of our business. We will persist in investing and innovating to realize our envisioned future.” The specific initiatives being discontinued were not specified by the spokesperson.
Although Amazon launched Alexa in 2014, even after almost a decade, most people utilize digital assistants primarily for simple tasks such as playing music, checking the weather, or setting timers. OpenAI’s ChatGPIT, powered by generative AI, is widely regarded as more intelligent than Alexa and Siri, which at times struggle with basic requests. OpenAI recently added voice capabilities to ChatGPT, enabling natural language conversations.
In September, Amazon announced plans to enhance Alexa with capabilities that would bring it closer to ChatGPT, including a larger language model. Amazon aims to optimize technology to enhance voice optimization and cater to customer preferences for real-time information access, efficient smart home control, and enhanced home entertainment experiences. Earlier this year, David Limp, Amazon’s SVP of devices and services, mentioned at a company event that he would soon depart Amazon to become the CEO of Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin.
The upcoming upgrade to Alexa will eliminate the need to use “Alexa” before each command. Additionally, users will be able to issue complex requests, such as instructing Alexa to prepare the house for sleep at 9 pm on weekdays, adjust lighting, close doors, and set the temperature simultaneously. Alexa will also be capable of holding extended conversations and retaining contextual understanding.
Amazon has already laid off over 27,000 employees across various departments after starting mass layoffs for the first time last year. In the recent week, 180 positions were cut from the gaming division, including the entire staff of the company-supported Twitch channel Crown. Earlier this month, Amazon also laid off an undisclosed number of employees from its music streaming unit and more than 100 from its gaming divisions in previous cutbacks.