The Disruptive Impact of Generative AI on Online Freelancing

The Disruptive Impact of Generative AI on Online Freelancing

The rise of generative AI, particularly with the advent of ChatGPT, has sent shockwaves through the online freelancing landscape. A groundbreaking study by researchers from Imperial College Business School, Harvard Business School, and the German Institute for Economic Research has shed light on the profound impact this technology is having on the demand for freelancers across various sectors.

Automation-Prone Jobs Bear the Brunt

The study, titled "Who is AI Replacing? The Impact of Generative AI on Online Freelancing Platforms," analyzed nearly two million job postings on a leading global freelancing platform across 61 countries over a two-year period from July 2021 to July 2023. The findings are striking: since the introduction of ChatGPT in November 2022, there has been a staggering 21% decrease in job postings for automation-prone roles, such as writing, software development, app and web development, and engineering.

This decline can be attributed to the remarkable capabilities of generative AI models like ChatGPT, which can generate human-like text, code, and even software applications with relative ease. As a result, many employers are turning to these AI tools as a cost-effective alternative to hiring freelancers for tasks that can be automated.

Image Generation Jobs Also Impacted

The impact of generative AI extends beyond text-based tasks. The study also found that the introduction of image-generating AI technologies led to a significant 17% decrease in job postings related to image creation, such as graphic design and 3D modeling. These AI models can generate realistic images based on textual descriptions, potentially replacing the need for human designers and artists in certain contexts.

Manual Work and Public Awareness

While automation-prone jobs and image generation roles have been hit hard, the study revealed that freelance jobs requiring manual-intensive skills, such as data entry, video and audio editing, and social media post-production, have been slightly less affected, with a 13% drop in demand. However, the researchers note that the more pronounced decline in demand for freelancers within automation-prone occupations correlates with higher public awareness of ChatGPT's substitutability, as evidenced by Google Trends data.

Quality Concerns and Future Adaptation

Despite the significant impact of generative AI on the freelancing market, Dr. Xinrong Zhu, co-author and Assistant Professor of Marketing at Imperial College Business School, acknowledges that it remains to be seen whether organizations are satisfied with the quality of work provided by AI compared to human freelancers. Additionally, she emphasizes that while the current job market may appear bleak, technological advancements have historically led to the emergence of new professions, and freelancers must adapt their skillsets to the changing landscape to secure work in the future.

Long-term Effects and the Need for Human Skills

The researchers highlight that the long-term effects of generative AI on the digital labor market are still uncertain. While widespread adoption of AI by employers as a replacement for human workers could exacerbate the existing decline in demand for labor, it might also enhance workers' productivity and potentially improve earnings.

Looking ahead, the researchers emphasize the ongoing necessity for roles that require a human touch, such as projects demanding creativity, intricate problem-solving, and nuanced understanding. They stress that the future workplace will need a diverse set of skills and the human intelligence to deliver them.


The impact of generative AI on online freelancing platforms is undeniable, and this study serves as a wake-up call for freelancers and the broader workforce. While automation and AI will continue to disrupt various industries, the researchers remind us that human skills, creativity, and adaptability will remain invaluable assets in the ever-evolving job market.