ChatGPT is already displacing freelancers

Some freelancers for platforms like Upwork and Fiverr have seen their earnings negatively impacted by the adoption of ChatGPT.

ChatGPT is already displacing freelancers
ChatGPT is already displacing freelancers

By Jacob Zinkula

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Last year, a record 39% of the US workforce did freelance work, per the freelance platform Upwork. But this year, the growing popularity of ChatGPT is posing a threat to some of their jobs.

paper published in July by researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and New York University examined how the November 2022 rollout of the generative AI tool ChatGPT impacted the earnings of Upwork freelancers. The key finding: freelancers whose work was the most exposed to AI earned over 5% less in April 2023 than they did before that chatbot’s release. Additionally, the researchers said workers who focused on writing-related tasks were among the most impacted.

It’s not just Upwork freelancers who are earning less. Sheraz Shoukat, an Australia-based freelancer who offers various writing services on the Fiverr platform, said tools like ChatGPT have led to less demand for his work.

“The impact on our earnings is huge, and to be honest, in a negative sense,” he told Business Insider. He said he’s seen some freelancers’ earnings fall from roughly $2,500 to $3,000 per month to around $1,000 today.

Shoukat is among the many workers around the world who are monitoring how the AI boom will impact their jobs in the years to come. The rise of generative AI tools like ChatGPT could expose millions of jobs to automation and force many US workers to switch occupations over the next decade.

Freelance workers, who are often narrowly specialized, could be the workers at “greatest risk of automation,” Oxford economist Carl Benedikt Frey told Business Insider.

“If all you are doing is copy editing, translation, or web design, generative AI is more capable of substituting for you than if you are part of a larger organization or team, where you perform a bundle of tasks,” he said.

As AI tools make it easier for companies’ in-house workers to perform certain job tasks, the demand for some types of freelance work could decline, Mark Muro, an expert on technology and workforce development and a policy director at the Brookings Institution, told Business Insider.

“In many settings, ChatGPT can be the freelancer and very much could reduce freelance jobs,” he said, adding that this dynamic could play out in “higher exposure” occupations like marketing, media, writing, and advertising.

How freelance writers can have success in the age of AI

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Some freelancers have found work as AI content editors, which often involves editing, fact-checking, and giving a human touch to clients’ AI-generated content. Between May and October, Fiverr searches for freelancers with AI-content-editing skills increased by over 7,000% in the US compared to the prior six-month period, according to a company report.

Other freelancers have found ways to continue producing valuable original content in the age of AI.

Ben Baker, a 56-year-old part-time freelance writer, covers events, explains court decisions and regulations, and does product reviews. He told Business Insider that he’s continued to grow his freelance earnings because much of his work requires expertise that AI doesn’t have.

“AI can tell you what the court decided,” he said, citing one example of his work. “It cannot tell you how that decision can be applied to various situations.”

Baker said he lands about one-third of his gigs through freelance platforms like Fiverr and gets the rest through direct contacts he’s developed with online publications. He has a few pieces of advice for other freelance writers: Breathe life into your writing, showcase your expertise, and incorporate real people into your content as much as possible.

“AI is hard to compete with if you go head to head,” he added. “You have to find something it cannot do.”

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