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Study: ChatGPT Both Helpful and ‘Junk Food’ for Workers


Is ChatGPT a help or a hindrance for white-collar workers?

A new Harvard Business School study suggests it might be a bit of both.

The study, the subject of a Thursday (Dec. 28) New York Times (NYT) article, examined how ChatGPT — the artificial intelligence (AI) tool from OpenAI — affected more than 750 business consultants and found “sharply mixed” results in their work product.

According to the NYT, the research found that ChatGPT improved the speed and quality of work for brainstorming, but distracted them during more analytical tasks.

In addition, the study describes a mix of reactions among workers to ChatGPT. One likened it to the Greek myth of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods. Another compared ChatGPT to junk food: easy and enjoyable to consume, but ultimately bad for you.

“It’s a well-designed study, particularly in a nascent area like this,” Maryam Alavi, a professor at the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told the NYT.

Alavi, who has examined the effect of new digital technology on workers and businesses, added that the study “really points out how much more we need to learn.”

Among the tasks involved in the study was brainstorming and creating a business plan for a new type of shoe, writing about it persuasively. The study found that consultants who used ChatGPT produced work that was rated more highly by independent evaluators.

But with tasks requiring reasoning based on evidence, ChatGPT wasn’t helpful. When workers were asked to interpret spreadsheet data and relate it to mock interviews with executives at a fictional company, the consultants who weren’t helped by the AI scored the highest.

News of the Harvard study comes on the heels of a ResumeBuilder survey showing that close to 40% of AI-using business leaders have already replaced workers with AI this year, with 44% expecting job cuts during 2024 due to the efficiency of AI.

As noted here last week, these findings mesh with those in a joint PYMNTS Intelligence-Billtrust study showing that business leaders are embracing AI technology, especially when they want to modernize and simplify expensive, outdated and manual approaches, which make up most business-to-business (B2B) payment procedures.

“In fact, 84% of business leaders surveyed in that study believe generative AI will positively impact the workforce, enabling a higher level of customer-centricity and delivering more precise predictions compared to conventional technologies,” PYMNTS wrote.