to cut “several hundred” Alexa jobs – Portal

Nov 17 (Portal) – (AMZN.O) said on Friday it is cutting jobs in its Alexa voice assistant division, citing changing business priorities and a greater focus on generative artificial intelligence.

The cuts affect several hundred employees who work on Alexa, according to the email. A spokeswoman did not want to say exactly how many were affected.

“We are shifting some of our efforts to better align with our business priorities and what we believe is most important to customers – including maximizing our resources and efforts focused on generative AI,” says Daniel Rausch, Vice President of Alexa and Fire TV said in the email. “These changes are causing us to discontinue some initiatives.”

Amazon this month retrenched in several areas of its business, including its music and gaming divisions and some human resources departments.

While most of the affected jobs were in the devices department, some worked on Alexa-related products in another department, a spokeswoman said. Many companies are shifting their resources to generative AI, which can create software code and long text answers from short prompts.

Alexa is a voice assistant that can be used to set timers, make search queries, play music, or act as a home automation hub.

Portal reported in September that morale in the devices division had suffered amid concerns about what some viewed as a weak product pipeline. People familiar with the matter pointed out in particular that the now almost decade-old voice assistant Alexa cannot keep up in the age of generative artificial intelligence.

Amazon said at the time that “the claim that a few anecdotes paint a picture of reality for a company as large and diverse as Devices and Services is inaccurate” and that the company stands by its products.

Amazon has said its devices and services business is not profitable, without providing figures.

Just last month, the devices division got a new boss, Panos Panay, who joined the company from Microsoft (MSFT.O) and replaced David Limp, a 13-year veteran who is leaving the company later this year to join Amazon’s Blue Origin. Founder Jeff Bezos to head rocket company. Panay had overseen the development of the Surface tablet.

Amazon has struggled to turn a profit with Alexa, which many people use through Echo speakers or video screens. Most efforts to make money from it have focused on making shopping on easier.

The Seattle-based online retailer’s voice assistant products compete with offerings from Alphabet (GOOGL.O) and Apple (AAPL.O).

Amazon cut more than 27,000 jobs companywide last year, part of a wave of tech layoffs in the U.S. after the industry hired heavily during the pandemic.

The latest cuts come even as Amazon reported third-quarter net income well above analysts’ estimates and forecast revenue for the final quarter of the year that was roughly in line with expectations. The fourth quarter is the most important for Amazon as it includes holiday shopping.

In the email, Rausch said he remains optimistic about Alexa.

“Integrating a new large-scale language model into voice-controlled, personal AI has been and continues to be a tremendous scientific and engineering challenge,” he wrote, using another term for generative AI.

Reporting by Greg Bensinger in San Francisco; Edited by Kenneth Li, Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis

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Greg Bensinger joined Portal in 2022 as a technology correspondent, focusing on the world’s largest technology companies. Previously, he was a member of the New York Times editorial board and a technology reporter for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. He also worked for Bloomberg News and wrote about the automotive and telecommunications industries. He studied English literature at the University of Virginia and received a degree in journalism from Columbia University. Greg lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.