Amazon cuts ‘several hundred’ jobs in Alexa division

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Visitors at Amazon Alexa boot during the international electronics and innovation fair IFA in Berlin on September 10, 2019.

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Amazon on Friday began laying off “several hundred” people in its Alexa division as part of broader belt-tightening that’s been underway since last year, the company confirmed.

Daniel Rausch, Amazon’s vice president of Alexa and Fire TV, sent a note to staffers informing them of the job cuts, according to a copy of the memo shared by an Amazon spokesperson.

“As we continue to invent, we’re shifting some of our efforts to better align with our business priorities, and what we know matters most to customers — which includes maximizing our resources and efforts focused on generative AI,” Rausch wrote in the memo, which was reported earlier by GeekWire. “These shifts are leading us to discontinue some initiatives, which is resulting in several hundred roles being eliminated.”

Amazon didn’t specify which Alexa initiatives it’s winding down as a result of the move.

The company will reach out on Friday to employees in the U.S. and Canada who were affected. Staffers in India will be notified next week, while timing in other regions is dependent on local regulations, Rausch said.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has been in cost-cutting mode since last year as the company reckons with an economic downturn and slowing growth in its core retail business. The company initiated the largest layoffs in its history, cutting more than 27,000 jobs, and axed many of its more unprofitable initiatives. Amazon previously cut employees in its devices and services division, which includes Alexa.

Since its launch in 2014, Amazon has made big investments in Alexa and assigned top talent to grow the technology, largely at the direction of Jeff Bezos, who first pitched Alexa and strongly believed 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 digital assistants like it were once groundbreaking technology, but they face increasing competition from generative artificial intelligence and chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. In September, Amazon teased updates to Alexa that are tied to generative AI, such as composing messages on behalf of users. The unit overseeing Alexa also has a new leader, after longtime devices head Dave Limp left to join Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin. Limp was succeeded 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 every hour,” and there are more than 500 million Alexa devices in consumers’ homes.

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