BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

The fear that artificial intelligence will eliminate jobs looms large in the current labor market. Work that has previously been done by humans, such as copywriting and developing code, is being replicated by AI-powered tools like ChatGPT and Copilot, leading many workers to anticipate that these tools may well swipe their jobs out from under them. And one population appears to be especially vulnerable: freelancers.

Working in the gig economy, freelancers by definition lack immediate job security, making them highly vulnerable to changes in the job market. Advancements in AI are the latest transformational change. Worse yet, data suggests that many of the jobs that were previously fertile grounds for freelance work are the most susceptible to AI substitution.

As freelance jobs dry up, many gig workers may have to pivot. Exactly what kind of work they will shift to remains up for debate.


In a November 2023 study, researchers Ozge Demirci, Jonas Hannane, and Xinrong Zhu examined popular freelance platforms over the nine months after the release of ChatGPT. During this time, they tracked the number of job opportunities in fields that were highly affected by generative AI. Ultimately, the researchers found a 21% decrease in the number of job openings for freelance roles related to writing and coding.

“We were expecting to see some effect, but the magnitude is really big,” Zhu, an assistant professor at Imperial College Business School in London, tells Fast Company. “This decrease was not a coincidence, and it was not merely a time trend or decreasing demand overall on the platform. It was actually driven by the introductions of these generative AI tools.”

While writing and coding roles were the most heavily affected freelance positions, they weren’t the only ones. For instance, the researchers found a 17% decrease in postings related to image creation following the release of DALL-E.

Of course, the study is limited by its short-term outlook. Still, the researchers found that the trend of replacing freelancers has only increased over time. After splitting their nine months of analysis into three-month segments, each progressive segment saw further declines in the number of freelance job openings. Zhu fears that the number of freelance opportunities will not rebound.

“We can’t say much about the long-term impact, but as far as what we examined, this short-term substitution effect was going deeper and deeper, and the demands didn’t come back,” Zhu says.


While the freelance market may be especially vulnerable to artificial intelligence, it can offer lessons about how AI will impact the broader labor market. Malcolm Frank, CEO of AI career management tool TalentGenius, calls the impact that AI is having on the freelance industry the “canary in the coal mine.” He suggests that full-time employees will likely face a similar fate in the upcoming years.

“Companies are testing [replacing workers with AI] in the freelance market,” Frank says. “Now that they’re seeing the art of the possible, they look at their permanent employees and say, ‘Why are we structured this way?’”

However, as employers test out using AI to reduce their need for gig workers, a new question arises: How should freelancers respond? Marc Cenedella, founder of executive job board Ladders Inc., notes that freelance workers may want to shift their focus toward leveraging AI themselves.

In the future, he argues, “humans will be the tool users, not doing the work of the tool themselves, and none of us really know what that’s going to look like. In the meantime, I think there’s a dislocation in the market for people who produce words or images on a contract basis.”

Frank of TalentGenius suggests that it’s likely time for freelancers to pivot. “I worry for people who aren’t paying attention,” he says. “If you aren’t understanding the trend, you are going to be victimized by it.”