Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks onstage at the annual Google I/O developer conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018.
Stephen Lam | Reuters
Google is rearranging the reporting structure of its virtual assistant unit — called Assistant — to focus more on Bard, the company’s new artificial intelligence chat technology.
In a memo to employees on Wednesday entitled “Changes to Assistant and Bard teams,” Sissie Hsiao, vice president and head of Google Assistant’s business unit, announced organizational changes that show the unit is heavily prioritizing Bard.
Jianchang “JC” Mao, who reported directly to Hsiao, will leave the company for personal reasons, according to the memo, which was viewed by CNBC. Mao held the position of vice president of engineering for Google Assistant and “helped shape the assistant we have today,” Hsiao wrote.
Mao’s place will be taken by 16-year Google veteran Peeyush Ranjan, who most recently held the title of vice president in Google’s trade organization overseeing payments.
“As the Bard teams continue this work, we want to make sure we continue to support and execute on future opportunities,” Hsiao said in the email. “This year, more than ever, we’ve focused on delivering impact for our users.”
Google Assistant is an AI-powered virtual assistant and language processing software application, similar to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Assistant is often used in the form of speech recognition on mobile and home devices, including the Pixel smartphone and in Nest smart speakers and devices. It is also used in smartwatches, smart displays, TVs and in vehicles through the Android Auto platform.
The new leadership changes suggest that the Assistant organization may be planning to integrate Bard technology into similar products in the future.
Last week, Google launched its ChatGPT competitor Bard to the public, calling it “an experiment,” starting with tests in the US and UK after CNBC reported product testing in January. CNBC previously reported that the company has brought in team members from various parts of the company to focus on Bard as part of a “code red” effort.
As part of Wednesday’s change, Google Assistant vice president of engineering Amar Subramanya will now lead engineering for the Bard team, the email said. Trevor Strohman, who previously led technical efforts for Bard, will continue as “Area Tech Lead” for Bard, reporting to Hsiao.
However, there is still a big question about how the technology can be used to generate revenue.
Executives have suggested using it as a search product, but Bard leaders more recently tried to downplay that employee use case, even as the company rushed to respond to Microsoft’s Bing Chat-GPT integration.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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