Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on the changing landscape of the freelance market due to the rise of artificial intelligence.

According to a report by Christopher Mims for the WSJ that was published on June 21, Jennifer Kelly, a freelance copywriter in Walpole, N.H., has seen her three-decade career in wealth management writing disrupted by AI tools like ChatGPT. Apparently, Kelly’s clients stopped calling after ChatGPT’s debut, leading to a significant drop in her income.

The WSJ cites multiple studies using data from freelance job boards, indicating a decline of up to 21% in freelance jobs posted on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr in areas where generative AI excels. These findings, as the journal points out, are corroborated by nonpublic data from at least one major freelance platform. Kelly Monahan, managing director of Upwork’s Research Institute, tells the WSJ that jobs requiring basic writing, coding, or translation are disappearing across their platform.

The impact of AI extends beyond writing. Reid Southen, a concept artist for TV and movies, including Blue Beetle and the Matrix Resurrections, tells the journal that his 2023 income was less than half of a typical year. The WSJ notes that AI tools like Midjourney are increasingly being used in the early stages of film and TV production, reducing the need for human concept artists.

The WSJ article includes a revealing chart that illustrates the varied impact of generative AI on different freelance task types since ChatGPT’s launch in November 2022. According to data from Upwork, the chart shows percentage changes in pay across various job categories, distinguishing between high-value and low-value tasks. High-value tasks, defined as complex and requiring skill, have generally seen positive growth, with Data Science & Analytics leading to a nearly 10% increase in pay.

In contrast, low-value tasks, characterized as repetitive and easily automated, have experienced declines across all categories. The writing sector appears to be the most severely impacted, with low-value writing tasks seeing a dramatic decrease of over 15% in pay. Interestingly, even high-value writing tasks show minimal growth compared to other high-value categories.

However, the WSJ’s reporting indicates that AI’s impact on the freelance market is not uniformly negative. The journal cites an Upwork spokeswoman who states that freelancers in fields like data science and IT, who can leverage AI to enhance their productivity without being replaced by it, are seeing average earnings increase by 40%.

The report also mentions that some freelancers are experiencing increased demand due to AI’s shortcomings. David Erik Nelson, a freelance sales and marketing copywriter in Ann Arbor, Mich., says he has seen a surge in clients dissatisfied with AI-generated content, particularly for high-stakes, technical marketing materials.

Monahan views AI’s impact on freelancers as similar to previous technological disruptions. Per the WSJ report, routine low-skilled tasks that can be fully automated will likely lead to lower wages for freelancers who once performed those tasks.

The WSJ article concludes with Kelly’s perspective on AI-generated content. Kelly says she can easily spot AI-generated material and finds that it has made the internet “so much duller.”

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