Google is halving the size of its experimental Area 120 division and shifting the division’s emphasis to “AI-first” projects.
Area 120 has operated as Google’s “in-house incubator” since 2016, offering staff members the chance to develop new ideas full-time rather than during their “20% time.” Both features that we now take for granted, like smart answers on Android, and things that might be overlooked, like GameSnacks in Android Auto and Chrome, were developed by this group.
According to a recent TechCrunch article, Google is drastically cutting back Area 120, with the number of employees being cut in half. Similar to Area 120, where there were originally 14 experimental projects, there are now only seven, and the others have been canceled.
On Tuesday, it was announced to the Google employees who lost their jobs at Area 120 that they had until the end of January 2023 to find new jobs at Google. This is a standard procedure when Google curtails or closes a division, as was the case with the closure of Stadia Games and Entertainment last year.
Only one of the seven Area 120 projects that were shelved—Qaya, a tool for building web stores—was ever made available to the public. Pro-climate initiatives like an EV charging station map, a carbon accounting tool, and a method to calculate the carbon content of forests were among the three projects that were discontinued. The other three were reportedly a Google Sheets accounting project, an analytics tool for AR and VR, and a commerce initiative.
In the future, Area 120 leader Elias Roman is reportedly centering the division on “AI-first projects” as opposed to its previous lofty goals, according to TechCrunch. The recent “Aloud” app, which seamlessly subtitles YouTube videos into several languages, is one Area 120 project that appears to still be under development. It may provide insight into the types of AI and machine learning concepts Google is looking to continue.
Google’s recruiting slowdown for 2022 and the hiring freeze that took place between July and August are very probably tied to the downsizing of the Area 120 division, which TechCrunch referred to as a “reduction in force.” The corporation should “think about how we can limit distractions and truly raise the bar on both product excellence and productivity,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at the time.