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Google Layoffs: Augmented Reality Teams Aren’t Safe But These Jobs Are

Last Updated January 12, 2024 6:41 PM
Samantha Dunn
Last Updated January 12, 2024 6:41 PM

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Google confirms they are laying off hundreds of employees.
  • Fitbit co-founders James Park and Eric Friedman will also leave the company.
  • The focus on AI has led to the decision to axe most of Google’s Augmented Reality team.
  • Human jobs that focus on sociability are most likely to be safe from AI takeover.

Google plans to lay off hundreds of its employees, according to a recent report by Reuters . This includes the majority of people in the Augmented Reality (AR) team and will reportedly affect its global teams as well.

The decision follows the decision by Google to focus on its artificial intelligence (AI) technology units as it seeks to compete with Microsoft and OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

Hundreds of Jobs to Be Cut by Google

The New York Times confirmed  reports of “hundreds” of job cuts across several of Google’s divisions, including the engineering team. A statement from Google was shared by Reuters, which provided further clarification into the job cuts:

“Throughout the second half of 2023, a number of our teams made changes to become more efficient and work better, and to align their resources to their biggest product priorities. Some teams are continuing to make these kinds of organizational changes, which include some role eliminations globally”.

The Google spokesperson spoke broadly of the “biggest product priorities” likely referring to their new focus on AI. They also provided more information on the global nature of the job cuts which have still not officially been reported by the tech giant.

Industries Hardest Hit by Global Layoffs

Google isn’t the only company axing jobs. The post-pandemic economic downturn has affected many industries , although the tech industry was hardest hit in Q1 of 2023.

Chart showcasing tech layoffs in 2024 to 2024
Tech Layoffs in 2022-2024

Google and Meta have been responsible for the largest tech layoffs since the global 2019 pandemic. Meta (formerly Facebook) decided to cut 13% of their workforce in November 2022, and again in March 2023. Meanwhile, Google made a broad sweep of 12000 of its employees in January of 2023.

Table that showcases the biggest tech layoffs since Covid-19
Biggest tech layoffs since COVID-19. Source: https://layoffs.fyi

The latest cuts by Google show that while Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) (also referred to as XR) may be trending topics,  particularly as metaverse innovation continues to emerge in the entertainment industries, big tech corporations are not cutting any corners in their race to become market leaders in AI.

Job Cuts in The Cryptocurrency Industry

Alongside mounting regulatory pressures, the cryptocurrency industry has also experienced many layoffs. Binance has confirmed the departure of its CEO Brian Shroder, and over a third of its workforce.

In a statement , Binance blamed regulatory restrictions for its decision to axe hundreds of jobs. The spokesperson blamed the ” aggressive attempts” of the SEC to cripple the industry, adding “The actions we are taking today provide Binance.US with more than seven years of financial runway and enable us to continue to serve our customers while we operate as a crypto-only exchange”.

Given 2023 saw the cryptocurrency industry still deep in a bear market, the decision by dozens of major cryptocurrency companies  to cut their workforce speaks broadly of the impact of this. Following the collapse of FTX in November 2022 and the subsequent fallout, the cryptocurrency industry was left reeling, the effects of which are still being felt today – evidenced by the layoffs that continue to mount despite the market’s current positive sentiment.

What Jobs Are Safe From AI?

In the face of AI advancements and the implications for job security, jobs that require high levels of creativity, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal skills are touted as the most resilient to AI . Manual labour jobs, or roles that require subjective reasoning are said to be safe from automation. OpenAI shared a graph in its whitepaper that demonstrates how ChatGPT performed on several professional exams – with the AI system passing all of them and ranking highly in terms of percentile.

In a report compiled by The UK Department of Education, the occupations that were least likely to be overtaken by AI included “more manual work that is technically difficult, in unpredictable environments and with lower wages […] with the exception of sports players”.

Of course, this doesn’t mean people are destined for unemployment if they have so-called high-risk jobs . rather than focusing on jobs as they currently exist, there is an argument for jobs to evolve alongside AI.

The New York Times  columnist and Tech writer Kevin Roose shared his predictions for the future of the job industry post-AI in his book Future Proof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation . In this guide to staying relevant in the machine age, Roose includes a section on his top rules to resist AI job takeover. His number one rule is to be “surprising, social, and scarce”. He notes that in his research “humans are much better than AI at work that involves unusual combinations of skills, high-stakes situations, or extraordinary talent”.

The Future Isn’t As Bleak As It Appears

Google and other tech giants may be focusing on AI, at the expense of their workforce, but this may also be a reflection of the current economic downturn rather. Blaming AI for unstable economic conditions isn’t going to give anyone their job back.

While no one can predict the exact development of the job market with any certainty, it makes sense that technology experts are calling for us to adapt alongside AI for us to stay relevant, and focus on what humans are best at – being social. At least for the time being.

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