ChatGPT boosts writing productivity, finds new MIT study

ChatGPT decreased the time it took workers to complete certain writing tasks by 40 percent and increased output quality by 18 percent.
Loukia Papadopoulos

A new MIT study has found that access to the assistive chatbot ChatGPT decreased the time it took workers to complete certain writing tasks by 40 percent and increased output quality by 18 percent.

This is according to a press release by the institution published on Friday

“What we can say for sure is generative AI is going to have a big effect on white collar work,” said Shakked Noy, a PhD student in MIT’s Department of Economics, who co-authored the paper with fellow PhD student Whitney Zhang ’21. 

“I think what our study shows is that this kind of technology has important applications in white collar work. It’s a useful technology. But it’s still too early to tell if it will be good or bad, or how exactly it’s going to cause society to adjust.”

Noy argues that this relatively new technology can increase worker productivity and have a net positive effect on the economy.

“Productivity is front of mind for economists when thinking of new technological developments,” Noy says. “The classical view in economics is that the most important thing that technological advancement does is raise productivity, in the sense of letting us produce economic output more efficiently.”

The study saw 453 college-educated marketers, grant writers, consultants, data analysts, human resource professionals, and managers given two writing tasks specific to their occupation. Then experienced professionals in the same occupations evaluated each submission without knowing which submissions were created with the help of ChatGPT.

The study found that participants using ChatGPT finished their tasks 11 minutes faster than the control group, while their average quality evaluations increased by 18 percent.

The research surfaced another interesting find: workers exposed to ChatGPT during the experiment were twice as likely to report using it in their real job two weeks after the experiment.

“The experiment demonstrates that it does bring significant speed benefits, even if those speed benefits are lesser in the real world because you need to spend time fact-checking and writing the prompts,” Noy says.

Now the researchers hope to extrapolate from ChatGPT’s impact an understanding of generative AI’s effect on the economy.

“There are so many other factors that are going to affect wages, employment, and shifts across sectors that would require pieces of evidence that aren’t in our paper,” Zhang said. 

“But the magnitude of time saved and quality increases are very large in our paper, so it does seem like this is pretty revolutionary, at least for certain types of work.”

The researchers also hope to evaluate how society should respond to generative AI’s proliferation.

“The policy needed to adjust to these technologies can be very different depending on what future research finds,” Zhang said in the statement.

“If we think this will boost wages for lower-paid workers, that’s a very different implication than if it’s going to increase wage inequality by boosting the wages of already high earners. I think there’s a lot of downstream economic and political effects that are important to pin down.”