ChatGPT has caused a massive drop in demand for online digital freelancers — here is what you can do to protect yourself

A person working on a laptop.
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Many employees, especially those working in creative fields, are understandably worried by the prospect of AI stealing their jobs - and new research has found it may not be an unfounded fear. 

A report from the Imperial College Business School, Harvard Business School, and the German Institute for Economic Research, found the demand for digital freelancers in writing and coding declined by 21% since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022.

Automation-prone fields like writing, software, and app development saw a 21% decrease in job listings, while data entry and social media post-production experienced a 13% drop. Image-generation roles, including graphic design and 3D modelling, fell by 17%. Google search trends confirmed a higher decline in sectors aware of and using generative AI.

Gloomy jobs market

The study, titled "Who is AI Replacing? The Impact of Generative AI on Online Freelancing Platforms," analyzed nearly two million job postings across 61 countries from July 2021 to July 2023. It categorized jobs into automation-prone roles, manual work, and image generation, and discovered significant declines in postings across these sectors following the launch of ChatGPT.

Dr Xinrong Zhu, co-author and Assistant Professor of Marketing at Imperial College Business School, said: “Despite being available on the market for just over a year, ChatGPT has already had a huge impact on the workplace. Though many organizations may be shifting from freelancers to generative AI, it still remains to be seen whether organizations are happy with the quality of work that AI provides in comparison to freelancers, and whether this trend will continue."

It's not all bad news though. "Although the findings of our research suggest that the jobs market looks gloomy, whenever technology sweeps professions aside, new ones will emerge. For freelancers, this means that those people adapt their skillsets to the changing landscape, will continue to secure work in the future,” she concluded.

What can you do to protect yourself?

There’s no question that the threat to digital freelancers is real, and will become more significant as ChatGPT and other AI tools improve. The future may look bleak, but as Dr Xinrong Zhu says, it’s not entirely hopeless. You can protect yourself from the challenges of AI by diversifying your skill sets and specializing in areas where human creativity and emotional intelligence are essential, such as strategic thinking, complex problem-solving, and nuanced content creation. Additionally, embracing AI tools to boost productivity and the quality of your work could turn potential threats into advantages. AI isn’t going away, and so we’re all going to have to learn with it and work alongside it.

Building a personal brand and networking extensively are also crucial, as these can lead to opportunities that purely AI-driven services can't compete with. It's also important to remember that ChatGPT will rarely produce exactly what a company is looking for. The images it creates might have flaws, a finger too many on a hand, or bizarre glitches, and an article may include content that's simply not true. Code written by AI can introduce logic and syntax errors, efficiency problems and even security vulnerabilities, all of which can prove costly down the road.

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Wayne Williams

Wayne Williams is a freelancer writing news for TechRadar Pro. He has been writing about computers, technology, and the web for 30 years. In that time he wrote for most of the UK’s PC magazines, and launched, edited and published a number of them too.