PYMNTS - Voice Technology - September 2023

Amazon to Cut Jobs in Alexa Division, Focus on Generative AI

Amazon building

Amazon is reportedly set to make hundreds of job cuts in its Alexa division.

The move is part of the company’s efforts to focus on the development of capabilities powered by generative artificial intelligence (AI), Bloomberg reported Friday (Nov. 17), citing a company memo seen by the media outlet.

Reached by PYMNTS, an Amazon spokesperson provided a statement saying that the company’s investments in generative AI will make Alexa “even more intuitive, intelligent and useful” than ever before.

“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,” the statement said. “These shifts are leading us to discontinue some initiatives, which is resulting in role eliminations.”

Amazon is supporting the affected employees in their next steps and remains optimistic about the future of Alexa, per the statement.

“As we move forward, Alexa remains an incredibly important part of our business, and we will continue to invest and innovate to deliver on our vision,” the statement said.

While the specific initiatives were not disclosed, Amazon aims to enhance the capabilities of its voice assistant, Alexa, which currently faces challenges in expanding its utility beyond basic tasks like weather updates and music playback, according to the Bloomberg report.

The emergence of more advanced conversational tools, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, has highlighted the limitations of Amazon’s software, the report said. Consequently, teams at Amazon are working to improve Alexa’s capabilities in this regard.

Employees in the United States and Canada will be informed of the layoffs on Friday, those in India will receive notifications next week, and employees in other countries may be informed on different timelines to allow for consultations with employee groups and other factors, per the report.

This move comes after Amazon’s largest-ever layoffs last year, which saw the elimination of 27,000 corporate positions due to overstaffing resulting from a hiring spree during the pandemic, according to the report.

In March, the company announced an additional 9,000 job cuts, targeting divisions including cloud services, human resources, advertising and the Twitch livestreaming service, the report said.

Amazon has since continued to seek cost-cutting measures, leading to further job reductions in its music division, video games unit and physical clothing stores, per the report.

On the product front, the company announced in September that it was adding features powered by generative AI to some of its Echo and Fire TV devices. These devices will let users experience the capabilities of the technology at home and on the go.