The release of ChatGPT led to a 2% drop in the number of writing jobs
on one major freelance employment platform and a 5.2% plunge in monthly earnings, a new study found.
The study examined the work received by 92,547 freelance writers who get jobs through the platform UpWork, and found that in just the first few months after its release, OpenAI’s artificial intelligence tool had a “substantial adverse affected workers’ employment outcomes.”
The researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and New York University specifically chose to measure freelance writing work, because it was likely to be one of the areas most impacted by the November 2022 introduction of ChatGPT and subsequent release of several rival large language models.
They decided to look at writing jobs after examining Google searches in the months after the release.
“‘GPT Writing’ is by far the most commonly search term compared to other domains, such as ‘GPT translation’ or ‘GPT software development,’” they wrote. “We interpret these patterns as suggestive evidence, consistent with the notion that while multiple industries are affected by the introduction of ChatGPT, the short-term implications are much more pronounced in the writing-related tasks.”
The decline in both the number of writing jobs and the compensation received via UpWork suggests “a causal relationship” with the release of ChatGPT, wrote researchers Xiang Hui and Oren Reshef of Washington University and Luofeng Zhou of NYU.
The reduced number of jobs and lower pay offered means that “freelancers are 1.2% less likely to receive any employment in a given month and take 4.7% less jobs,” the study found, labeling the AI impact “economically meaningful.”
What’s more, the study found consistent evidence that “high-quality workers being disproportionately affected,” meaning the top-paid freelancers were hurt the most.
“We do not find evidence that high-quality service, measured by their past performance and employment, moderates the adverse effects on employment,” the researchers wrote. “In fact, we find suggestive evidence that top freelancers
are disproportionately affected by AI.”
The study noted that it looked only at the short-term impact of generative AI, but said the results suggest that the technology “reduces overall demand for knowledge workers of all types, and may have the potential to narrow gaps among workers” in terms of pay.
While the paper provides new and preliminary evidence on the short-term effects of generative AI, the researchers wrote that “the long-term implications may be significantly different, and it is unclear how our findings extend to longer time horizons.”
The issue of AI use and its potential for replacing writers and actors was a major point of contention in the dual Hollywood strikes this summer.
The WGA contract included protections for writers, including preventing studios from requiring AI use and language on how the union members’ work may be used to train AI. The SAG-AFTRA deal, which is not yet ratified by members, also includes provisions related to AI, but the details have not yet been made public.
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