Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks onstage during the annual Google I/O developer conference in Mountain View, Calif., May 8, 2018.
Stephen L | Reuters
Google is realigning the reporting structure of its virtual assistant unit — called Assistant — to focus more on Bard, the company’s new smart chat technology.
In a memo to employees on Wednesday, titled “Changes to the Assistant and Bard Teams,” Sissie Hsiao, vice president and head of the Google Assistant business unit, announced changes in the organization that show the unit is overwhelmingly prioritizing the Bard.
According to the memo, seen by CNBC, Jianchang “JC” Mao, who reported directly to Hsiao, will be leaving the company for personal reasons. Mao served as Vice President of Engineering for Google Assistant and “helped shape the assistant we have today,” Hsiao wrote.
Mao will be replaced by 16-year Google veteran Peeyush Ranjan, who most recently served as a vice president at Google’s commerce organization, where he oversaw payments.
“As Bard teams continue this work, we want to ensure we continue to support and implement future opportunities,” Hsiao said in the email. “This year, more than ever, we have focused on delivering with impact for our users.”
Google Assistant is an AI-powered virtual assistant software application and language processing software similar to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Often in the form of speech recognition, the assistant is used on mobile and home devices, including the Pixel smartphone and Nest speakers and smart devices. It is also used in smart watches, smart displays, TVs, and vehicles with the Android Auto platform.
The new leadership changes indicate that the assisting organization may plan to integrate Bard’s technology into similar products in the future.
Last week, Google released its competitor ChatGPT Bard to the public, describing it as an “experiment,” starting with tests in the US and UK after CNBC reported on product testing in January. CNBC previously reported that the company pulled team members from various areas around the company to focus on Bard as part of a “code red” effort.
As part of Wednesday’s shakeup, Google’s associate vice president of engineering, Amar Subramanya, will lead engineering for the Bard team, the email said. Trevor Strohman, who previously led Bard’s engineering efforts, will continue as Bard’s “Technical Area Leader”, reporting to Hsiao.
However, there is still a big question of how technology can be used to generate revenue.
Executives have hinted at using it as a search product, but Bard leaders recently tried to downplay this use case to employees even as the company scrambled to respond to Microsoft’s Bing Chat-GPT integration.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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