AI is coming for your online freelance jobs

A report found that writing, coding, and image generation jobs have dropped since ChatGPT’s debut.

Here’s something depressing: AI may be replacing jobs typically done by certain freelancers.

A small white robot uses a laptop against a blue and pink background.

In 2023, academic ghostwriters in Kenya — i.e., people who write US and UK students’ essays for them — said they’d seen demand plummet as students began having ChatGPT do it for free.

That led to a report from Harvard Business School, the Imperial College Business School, and the German Institute of Economic Research, in which they examined ~2m online job listings across 61 countries from July 2021 to July 2023.

And what did the report find?

That since ChatGPT debuted in November 2022, demand for online freelancers has dropped by:

  • 30% for writers
  • 20% for coders
  • 17% for image creation work, like graphic design
  • 13% for social media post production and data entry

It’s unclear whether this work is mostly good, or if it’s turning out like the infamous Glasgow Willy Wonka disaster.

Yet here’s something interesting: pay rates increased minimally, leading Xinrong Zhu, one of the study’s authors, to speculate that AI is primarily after shorter-term, simpler jobs.

And sometimes, the tables turn

Clients can undercut human freelancers all they want, but there’s also nothing stopping human freelancers from using AI.

A business consultant who uploaded two jobs to Upwork told Forbes that of the 300 applications he received, he believed ChatGPT wrote 200+ of them. He also once hired a writer who submitted work with no knowledge past 2021 — a limit ChatGPT once had.

This has led to disputes on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr, where clients accuse writers of passing off work to AI. Meanwhile, other freelancers are offering cheaper rates to use ChatGPT; one even started a new gig cleaning up sloppy AI-generated content.

This sure seems like a lot of extra steps when we could just pay people a fair wage to create quality work, but what do we know?

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