Amazon is downsizing its workforce within the Alexa division while simultaneously gearing up to enhance Alexa’s intelligence to rival that of modern AI-powered chatbots like ChatGPT. The restructuring will impact several hundred employees in the United States, Canada, and India, according to an internal email sent on Friday.
In the email, Daniel Bausch, Amazon’s vice president of Alexa and Fire TV, explained, “As we continue to innovate, we’re realigning our efforts to better reflect our business priorities and customer needs, maximizing our resources and focus on generative AI.” This shift in direction has led to the discontinuation of certain initiatives, resulting in the elimination of several hundred roles.
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the layoffs, emphasizing the company’s efforts to find alternative roles for affected employees. Despite the challenging decision, the spokesperson expressed optimism about Alexa’s future, stating, “As we move forward, Alexa remains an integral part of our business, and we will continue to invest and innovate to fulfill our vision.” The spokesperson did not specify which initiatives were being terminated.
Released in 2014, Alexa has faced challenges as users predominantly utilize the digital assistant for basic tasks like playing music, checking the weather, or setting timers. In contrast, ChatGPT, powered by generative AI, has been perceived as more intelligent than Alexa and Siri. Amazon, acknowledging this gap, announced in September its plans to upgrade Alexa, bringing it closer to the capabilities of ChatGPT. The upcoming enhancements include powering Alexa with a large language model optimized for voice, eliminating the need to say “Alexa” for every command. Users will also be able to issue complex requests, such as preparing the house for bedtime, and engage in longer, context-aware conversations with the assistant.
Amazon’s decision to streamline its workforce within the Alexa division follows a series of company-wide layoffs totaling more than 27,000 employees since the initiation of mass-scale cutbacks a year ago. Recent cutbacks include 180 jobs in the gaming division, the entire staff of the Crown Twitch channel, and an unspecified number of employees in the music streaming unit. These moves align with Amazon’s ongoing efforts to adapt its organizational structure and prioritize strategic initiatives.