Google Halves Area 120, 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 served as Google’s “internal incubator”, giving employees the opportunity 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 TechCrunch reported that Google is 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 as the remaining Projects have been cancelled.

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

Of the seven Area 120 projects that have been cancelled, only one – Qaya, an online storefront 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 to the future, TechCrunch 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 appears to still 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 that Google tries to continue.

The downsizing of the Area 120 division — which TechCrunch called “strength reduction” – is almost certainly linked to Google’s hiring slowdown 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 both for product excellence and productivity” .

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