Daniel de la Hoz

Google was working on an AI-powered mobile chatbot app for Gen Z users that features interactive digital characters, CNBC has learned.

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

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

The app’s description states that it featured “human-like” conversations that “take action” and are “interesting for GenZ.” The conversations were powered by large language models, which are massive data sets used to understand and generate human-like text.

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

In an example seen by CNBC, a cartoon-like character’s friendly voice engaged in conversation, asked follow-up questions and even offered relationship advice.

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

Meanwhile, some of Google’s top AI researchers have left the company to start their own chatbot companies, drawing investments in an otherwise slow funding environment. Character.AI, a two-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.