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Google reshuffles Assistant unit again to ‘supercharge’ it with AI

TechnologyGoogle reshuffles Assistant unit again to 'supercharge' it with AI


Google wants to “supercharge” its seven-year-old smart assistant using new advancements in generative artificial intelligence, as part of the latest major reorganization of the Assistant unit.

In an email to employees Monday, Peeyush Ranjan, Google’s vice president of engineering at Assistant, said the latest reshuffle will include a small number of layoffs. Ranjan said the company will look to push large language model, or LLM, technology into Assistant, Google’s voice-powered software that’s similar to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa.

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“As a team, we need to focus on delivering high quality, critical product experiences for our users,” Ranjan wrote in the email, which was viewed by CNBC. “We’ve also seen the profound potential of generative AI to transform people’s lives and see a huge opportunity to explore what a surpercharged Assistant, powered by the LLM technology, would look like.”

A portion of the Assistant team has already started working on the efforts, Ranjan added. Employees who are being laid off will be given 60 days to search for other jobs within Google.

Axios first reported some of the unit’s changes.

As a part of the reorganization, executives announced a dozen changes to the company’s “Speech” team, which oversees voice commands. Francoise Beaufays, who had been the head of Speech, is moving to work under Sissie Hsiao, who oversees Bard and Assistant.

“This is an exciting moment for AI, with nearly every product demanding world-class AI-driven Speech,” Beaufays wrote in a separate email announcing changes to the unit. Some members of the Speech team will focus their efforts specifically on Bard, she wrote.

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Assistant executives said the changes will allow the division to move with “speed and focus.”

Jennifer Rodstrom, a Google spokesperson, said in an email to CNBC that the company is “excited to explore how LLMs can help us supercharge Assistant and make it even better.”

“Hundreds of millions of people use the Assistant every month and we’re committed to giving them high quality experiences,” she wrote.

The rapid developments in generative AI, which responds to text-based queries with intelligent and creative answers and can convert text to images, is pushing Google to embed the technology in as many products as possible.

For the older Assistant organization, that’s meant frequent refinements. Assistant is used in Google’s mobile and home devices, including its Pixel smartphone and in Nest smart speakers and devices. It’s also used in smart watches, smart displays, TVs and in vehicles through the Android Auto platform.

In March, Hsiao announced changes to the organization, underscoring a prioritizing of Bard. Ranjan, who had been vice president of commerce, stepped in as engineering lead for the unit and oversees more than 1,700 full-time employees, according to an internal document.

Since the launch late last year of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Amazon has also emphasized the emerging importance of generative AI, adding it into Alexa products.

For Google, which has dominated internet search for the better part of two decades, there’s more at stake, as ChatGPT and Microsoft Bing, which uses OpenAI’s model, give people alternative ways to search for answers.

Google has been rolling out updates to Bard after launching it publicly in March. Last month, the company said it expanded to over 40 languages in more countries, and will include features like audio responses, thanks to its newest LLM, Palm 2.

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