© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Amazon logo is seen, November 15, 2022. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo
By Greg Bensinger
(Reuters) -Amazon.com said on Friday it was cutting jobs at its Alexa voice assistant unit, citing changing business priorities and a greater focus on generative artificial intelligence.
The removals affect several hundred employees working on Alexa, according to the email. A spokeswoman declined to say exactly how many were affected.
“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 efforts focused on generative AI,” said Daniel Rausch, vice president of Alexa and Fire TV. said in the email. “These changes lead us to abandon certain initiatives.”
Amazon has made declines in various divisions this month, including in its music and gaming divisions and in some human resources positions.
While most of the affected jobs were in the devices division, a few worked on Alexa-related products in another unit, a spokeswoman said. Many companies are shifting resources toward generative AI, which can create software code and long text responses from short prompts.
Alexa is a voice assistant that can be used to set timers, ask search queries, play music or as a home automation hub.
Reuters reported in September that morale in the devices division had suffered due to concerns over what some saw as a weak product pipeline. In particular, people familiar with the matter pointed out that the nearly decade-old Alexa voice assistant has failed to keep pace with the era of generative artificial intelligence.
Amazon said at the time that “to suggest that a few anecdotes paint a picture of the reality of an organization as large and diverse as devices and services is inaccurate” and that it stood by its products.
Amazon said its devices and services business was unprofitable, without providing figures.
Last month, the devices unit received a new chief, Panos Panay, who joined the company from Microsoft (NASDAQ:), replacing David Limp, a 13-year veteran who will leave later this year to lead Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket. business. Panay had overseen the development of the Surface tablet.
Amazon has struggled to generate profits from Alexa, which many people use through Echo speakers or video displays. Most efforts to take advantage of this have focused on making it easier to shop on Amazon.com (NASDAQ:).
The Seattle-based online retailer’s voice assistant products compete with offerings from Alphabet (NASDAQ:) and Apple (NASDAQ:).
Amazon has cut more than 27,000 jobs at the company over the past year, part of a wave of layoffs across the U.S. tech sector after the industry hired heavily during the pandemic .
The latest cuts come even as Amazon reported third-quarter net profit that comfortably beat analysts’ estimates and forecast revenue for the final quarter of the year roughly in line with expectations. The fourth quarter is the most crucial for Amazon because it includes holiday shopping.
In the email, Rausch said he remains optimistic about Alexa.
“Integrating a new large-scale language model into voice-enabled personal AI has been and continues to be an enormous scientific and engineering challenge,” he wrote, using another term for the Generative AI.