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Google culls Assistant, hardware, engineering teams

Alphabet’s Google said on Wednesday it is laying off hundreds of employees across multiple teams, with Fitbit co-founders James Park and Eric Friedman also leaving the company, as the tech giant continues to cut costs.

Google said it will lay off hundreds at its Voice Assistant unit, while a few hundred roles are being eliminated in the hardware team responsible for Pixel, Nest and Fitbit, with the majority of people in the augmented reality (AR) team being let go. Hundreds of roles in the search giant’s central engineering team are also being impacted, the company said.

Google bought health and fitness tracking company Fitbit for $2.1 billion in 2021 but has continued to roll out new versions of its Pixel Watch, a product that competes with some of Fitbit’s devices and also the Apple Watch.

“Throughout second-half of 2023, a number of our teams made changes to become more efficient and work better, and to align their resources to their biggest product priorities. Some teams are continuing to make these kinds of organizational changes, which include some role eliminations globally,” a spokesperson for Google told Reuters in a statement.

The spokesperson did not specify the number of roles being impacted. It is not immediately clear how many people are part of the Google Assistant software and other teams.

The reorganization of certain teams comes at a time when companies like Microsoft and Google are betting on the rising adoption of generative artificial intelligence (AI) technology following the success of OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

Last year, Google announced plans to add generative AI capabilities to its virtual assistant. AI would allow the assistant to do things like help people plan a trip or catch up on emails and then ask follow-up questions.

In January 2023, Alphabet announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs, equivalent to 6 per cent of its global workforce.

As of September 2023, Alphabet had 182,381 employees globally.

  • Reporting by Gursimran Kaur and Jyoti Narayan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza, Sonia Cheema and Mrigank Dhaniwala, of Reuters.
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