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Google wants to battle TikTok with ‘applied AI’ projects from Area 120


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The pure largess of Alphabet lends plenty of follow-up opportunities to stories like the axing of more than 12,000 jobs across its various properties. For one, we’ve seen proportionally deeper cuts to the team developing the up-and-coming Fuchsia OS as well as to projects at Google’s Area 120 incubator. We’re now learning of the Area 120 remnants that will be carried forward as well as the mounting of a potential offensive against the likes of Instagram and TikTok.

In a letter obtained by TechCrunch, Clay Bavor, a VP in charge of Google Labs, tells Area 120 members that the company is turning the lab squarely in the direction of applications for artificial intelligence, carrying on only three projects: Aloud, a foreign language overdub tool for videos; Checks, a privacy compliance aide for app makers, and; a third project aimed at Gen Z users led by the team that created a third-party app called Liist.

“For nearly seven years, Area 120 has been a source of bottom-up innovation across Google, and from it we’ve learned many lessons on how best to pursue zero-to-one opportunities,” Bavor wrote. “But with the unprecedented opportunities ahead of us, we need to shift to a model of new product development that is opinionated and focused.”

It seems Aloud and Checks stood out with potential as standalone products while other Area 120 items like GameSnacks and TouringBird were rationalized into existing products including Google Chrome, Cloud, Commerce, Search, and Shopping.

The Liist-led project seems like the odd one out, especially considering that Google quietly picked up the company last year. Its app allowed users to bookmark different places whether they’re parks, museums, hotels, restaurants, or anywhere else they’ve seen across social media including on Instagram and TikTok — two apps that Google has acknowledged to be eating its lunch by diverting traffic away from its Search-related tools.

TechCrunch also notes Liist co-founder David Friedl notes on his LinkedIn page that he had been working on a “GenZ consumer product” at Area 120.

Bavor tells staffers that Area 120 will now be led by Elias Roman, a managing partner at the division. Roman will also take charge of a number of “applied AI” products, reporting to Josh Woodward, Senior Director of Product Management at Google Labs.

It appears the race to legitimize artificially-intelligent products to the bemused public is well and truly on. We’ll have to see if Google can actually pull off more than just parlor tricks or HR disasters waiting in the wings.

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