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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Amazon is laying off hundreds of people in Alexa division Inc. defended the privacy features of its Alexa digital assistant – and introduced some new tools to reassure users – following months of debate about the practices of the technology giant and its largest competitors.  (Chloe Collyer/Bloomberg)
By Matt Day Bloomberg Inc. is cutting hundreds of employees in the division responsible for its voice-activated Alexa assistant, according to a memo sent to employees on Friday.

Daniel Rausch, an Amazon vice president who leads teams working on Alexa and the company’s Fire TV streaming franchise, said the company was “shifting some of our efforts to better align with our business priorities,” including focusing on building capabilities powered by generative artificial intelligence.

“These shifts are leading us to discontinue some initiatives, which is resulting in several hundred roles being eliminated.”

Rausch didn’t specify which initiatives would be eliminated.

The Alexa voice assistant powers millions of Echo smart speakers and other devices in homes, but Amazon has struggled to broaden the utility of the software beyond relatively basic tasks like checking the weather and playing music.

The rise of seemingly more capable conversational tools like ChatGPT, powered by so-called generative AI, have highlighted the shortcomings of Amazon’s software.

Teams at the company are racing to infuse Alexa with more of those capabilities.

Amazon, which avoided mass job cuts for most of its existence, began its largest-ever layoffs about a year ago, ultimately axing 27,000 corporate positions after a hiring spree during the pandemic left the company with too many people.

The company deepened the layoffs when it announced another 9,000 layoffs in March, which Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy said would land on the cloud services division, human resources, advertising and the Twitch livestreaming service.

Since then, the company has continued to look for cost cuts, at times leading to more layoffs.

Amazon recently eliminated jobs in its music division and video games unit, and shuttered its physical clothing stores.

Rausch said employees in the US and Canada set to be laid off would be informed Friday morning Seattle time.

Employees in India will find out next week, and cuts in other countries may follow other timelines to allow for consultations with employee groups or other factors.

The technology news site GeekWire reported the job cuts earlier.