The freelance landscape in the United States experienced a remarkable surge last year, with a staggering 39% of the workforce engaging in freelancing through platforms like Upwork. However, the dynamics have evolved in the current year as the widespread adoption of ChatGPT, a generative AI tool, raises challenges for certain freelance jobs.
Impact on Upwork Freelancers
In July, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and New York University released a paper examining the repercussions of ChatGPT’s November 2022 rollout on Upwork freelancers. The findings were concerning, revealing that freelancers whose tasks were most susceptible to AI experienced a notable decrease of over 5% in earnings by April 2023. Particularly, those specializing in writing-related tasks bore the brunt of this impact.
A Downfall for Freelancers
The ramifications extend beyond Upwork, impacting freelancers on a global scale. Sheraz Shoukat, an Australian freelancer providing diverse writing services on the Fiverr platform, shared insights into the diminishing demand for his work due to tools like ChatGPT. The negative impact on earnings has been substantial, with some freelancers witnessing income drops from $2,500-$3,000 per month to around $1,000.
Workers worldwide are closely monitoring the implications of the AI boom on their professions. The rise of generative AI tools like ChatGPT poses a potential threat to millions of jobs, sparking concerns about the need for many US workers to transition to different occupations over the next decade.
The Automation Challenge
Freelancers, often specialized in niche areas, are identified by Oxford economist Carl Benedikt Frey as potentially facing the “greatest risk of automation.” He explains that those engaged in singular tasks like copy editing, translation, or web design are more susceptible to substitution by generative AI than those involved in multifaceted roles within larger organizations or teams.
Declining Demand in Certain Sectors
As AI tools empower in-house workers to handle specific job tasks more efficiently, the demand for certain freelance roles may decline. Mark Muro, an expert on technology and workforce development at the Brookings Institution, warns that occupations with “higher exposure,” such as marketing, media, writing, and advertising, could particularly feel the impact.
Bright Spots Amid Challenges
Though these obstacles exist, there are signs of hope. Certain freelancers have effectively made the switch to working as AI content editors, where their responsibilities include editing, fact-checking, and adding a human touch to content produced by AI. There has been a noticeable increase in US searches for freelancers with AI content editing skills, according to data from Fiverr.
An Upwork spokesperson remains optimistic, stating that the overall benefits of AI for their marketplace and customers outweigh any negative effects. While acknowledging that certain jobs may be more affected than others, they claim to have witnessed job creation due to AI, rather than job loss.
Insights from Freelancers
For freelancers like Ben Baker, a part-time writer, the key to success in the age of AI lies in offering expertise that AI lacks. Baker emphasizes the importance of breathing life into writing, showcasing expertise, and incorporating real human experiences into content. He suggests that freelancers must find aspects that AI cannot replicate to remain competitive in an evolving landscape.