Hundreds of Google Assistant Employees Laid Off as Google Restructures Voice Assistant Around Generative AI
Google is laying off hundreds of employees from the Google Assistant team, among several others. The downsizing is part of a larger overhaul the tech giant is performing to streamline operations and refocus resources on generative AI projects like the Gemini family of LLMs and the Bard AI assistant.
Google Assistant Overhaul
The Google Assistant layoffs are not an isolated event. It’s the latest in a series of job reductions by Google, including cutting 12,000 roles last January. These layoffs appear to be a consequence of how Google is remodeling Google Assistant around generative AI, augmenting the voice assistant with Bard, and redistributing some Google Assistant features among other products like Google Maps and within the Android operating system.
Google has already given Bard some Google Assistant features and started augmenting Google Assistant with Bard’s reasoning and communication abilities to make the voice assistant more proactive and broaden its knowledge. Bard can also mimic the personalization of Google Assistant, pulling answers from Gmail, Docs, and other Google productivity apps through Bard Extensions. The sunsetting of Google Conversational Actions in favor of Android apps may have foreshadowed the layoffs.
The timing would also fit with reports that Google is developing a premium Bard subscription service called Bard Advanced. Subscribers would have access to a version of Bard employing Gemini Ultra, the largest and most powerful version of the three Gemini LLMs. Bard Advanced will likely include a custom AI bot creator named Motoko, AI-generated prompt expansions, and a Gallery for exploring Bard’s capabilities. Google may also introduce the ability to customize Bard conversations with background images and keep track of long-running requests.
The Google Assistant layoffs come as Google reorganizes its hardware teams, too. The teams working on Pixel phones, Nest smart home devices, and Fitbit wearables are no longer independent divisions. Google is switching to a unified functional structure, so there will be singular company-wide teams for hardware engineering, design, software, and other areas. As part of this shake-up, Fitbit co-founders James Park and Eric Friedman and other leaders are departing Google. When Google acquired Fitbit in 2021, Park stayed on as VP and GM of Fitbit. The hardware reorganization involves a few hundred additional job cuts, mostly from Google’s internal augmented reality team.