Google quietly shelved plans for an AI-powered chatbot app for Gen Z

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Google is working on an artificial intelligence-powered mobile chatbot app for Gen Z consumers featuring interactive digital characters, CNBC has learned.

However, the company recently “de-prioritized” those efforts amid an internal reorganization, according to materials seen by CNBC. Usually, when a product is deprioritized at Google, work on it stops.

Called “Bubble Characters,” the app featured a selection of digital talking characters that would interact in conversations with Gen Z users, according to internal documents seen by CNBC. The company had been working on it since Q4 2021. Google declined to comment to CNBC.

The app’s description says it had “human-like” conversations that were “actionable” and “interesting to GenZ.” ” The conversations were driven by large language models, which are large data sets used to understand and generate human-like text.

“What started as something out of a science fiction novel, is the next generation of human-level conversation,” reads the app’s description.

In an example seen by CNBC, the friendly voice of a cartoon-like character engaged in conversation, asking follow-up questions and even offering relationship advice.

The Gen Z chatbot was one among a range of AI-powered projects using Google’s massive language models in recent months. Within the Assistance group, which works on virtual assistant applications or two-way conversations for several platforms, executives have prioritized the ChatGPT competitor Bard amid an internal reorganization that included the departure of a few key officials. Some members of the Bubble Characters team were asked to stop their work on the Gen Z app to work on Bard ahead of its launch, according to letters seen by CNBC.

At the same time, some of Google’s top AI researchers have left the company to start their own chatbot companies, attracting investments in a funding environment that has been sluggish. Character.AI, a 2-year-old company building a companion AI chatbot led by former Google researchers Noam Shazeer and Daniel De Freitas, raised $150 million led by Andreessen Horowitz in February.

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