A New Experiment Shows Why We Must Rethink Productivity in the ChatGPT Era

Clark Boyd
7 min readMar 6, 2023

When you survive a few waves of tech disruption, you learn a thing or two.

Well, maybe just one thing: the hype rarely translates into real, lasting change.

The problem is not the technology itself — except for crypto, which continues to look like a scam designed by a teenage boy. No, the problem always lies in our ability to change with the technology.

I’ve got the receipts to prove it. The metaverse trends reports, the voice search tattoos, the NFTs of smoking chimps. They were all meant to change the world and then the world refused to change.

With that in mind, let’s take a gander at generative AI (again).

Many of you will have read, seen, and heard my thoughts on this topic already. The best thing about it is that it changes so quickly, I can change my narrative all the time. Depending on the day of the week, I could be zigging or zagging.

I gave five talks about generative AI this week, all of them different and none of them finalised until the very last second.

Just this morning, I saw a new paper published by MIT (released May 3) about the potential productivity gains of generative AI.

You can check the paper out right here. It’s called “Experimental Evidence on the Productivity Effects of Generative Artificial Intelligence”.

Why did this intrigue me so? Well, two reasons — thanks for asking.

  1. For all the talk about tech revolutions, our productivity at work has stalled.

We’re not getting more done and we’re working longer hours. What happened to “tech as the enabler”, while we “focus on creativity”? Here’s how it’s going in the UK:

Potential explanations for this productivity gap include insufficient investment in IT systems, a post-crash reluctance to lend to small business on the part of banks, and the general lack of education that led England/Wales to vote for Brexit.

2. It’s a powerful chart, right? However, you might also look at it and wonder how we even calculate “productivity”.

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Clark Boyd

Tech/business writer, CEO (Novela), lecturer (Columbia), and data analyst. >500k views on Medium. I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was.