Tuesday, September 27

Google halves Area 120 and refocuses on ‘AI-first’ projects

Google is cutting its experimental Area 120 division in half, refocusing the group on “AI-first” projects.

Since 2016, Area 120 has acted as Google’s “internal incubator”, giving employees the chance to build on experimental ideas full-time, rather than in their “20% time”. The division has been responsible for features we now take for granted, like Smart Replies on Android, as well as features that may go unnoticed like GameSnacks in Android Auto and Chrome.

Today, Tech Crunch reported that Google was massively reducing the 120 area, with the number of employees cut in half. Likewise, while Area 120 was previously home to 14 experimental projects, that number has been reduced to just seven, with the remaining projects cancelled.

Google employees who lost their jobs at Area 120 were told on Tuesday they had until the end of January 2023 to find a new position at Google. This is common practice when Google downsizes or downsizes a division, as it did when it shut down Stadia Games and Entertainment last year.

Of the seven Area 120 projects that have been cancelled, only one – Qaya, a web storefront building tool – has launched publicly. Three canceled projects included pro-climate projects like a map of electric vehicle charging stations, a carbon accounting tool and a way to measure forest carbon. The other three would be a shopping project, an analytics tool for AR and VR, and an accounting project for Google Sheets.

Looking forward, Tech Crunch cited Area 120 manager Elias Roman as refocusing the division on “AI-driven projects” instead of its previously broad ambitions. An Area 120 project that still appears to be in development, the recent “Aloud” app that seamlessly dubs YouTube videos into multiple languages, may serve as a clue to the kinds of AI and machine learning ideas Google is looking for. to continue.

The downsizing of the Area 120 division — which Tech Crunch called “effective reduction” – is almost certainly related to the slowdown in Google hiring for 2022 and the freeze that occurred between July and August. At the time, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company “should think about how we can minimize distractions and really raise the bar for product excellence and productivity.”

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