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Navigating the Jagged Technological Frontier: Field Experimental Evidence of the Effects of AI on Knowledge Worker Productivity and Quality Academic Article Alert!

Written by [“Fabrizio Dell’Acqua”, ‘Edward McFowland’, ‘Ethan R. Mollick’, ‘Hila Lifshitz-Assaf’, ‘Katherine Kellogg’, ‘Saran Rajendran’, ‘Lisa Krayer’, ‘François Candelon’, ‘Karim R. Lakhani’]

Category: Based on the provided comma separated list, this article belongs to the category “Enterprise AI”.

Article Section: Enterprise AI

Publication Date: 2023-09-15

SEO Description: AI impact on productivity, quality & integration in consulting tasks, with Centaurs & Cyborgs as AI users.

Dell’Acqua, Fabrizio, et al. Navigating the Jagged Technological Frontier: Field Experimental Evidence of the Effects of AI on Knowledge Worker Productivity and Quality. 4573321, 15 Sept. 2023,

GPT Generated Article Summary


This text discusses a study conducted with Boston Consulting Group to examine the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on knowledge worker productivity and quality. The study involved 758 consultants who were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: no AI access, GPT-4 AI access, or GPT-4 AI access with a prompt engineering overview. The results showed that tasks within the capabilities of AI were completed more efficiently and produced higher quality results when consultants used AI. Consultants below and above the average performance threshold also benefited significantly from AI augmentation. However, for tasks outside the frontier of AI capabilities, consultants using AI were less likely to produce correct solutions. The study also identified two patterns of successful AI use: “Centaurs,” who divided their solution-creation activities between AI and themselves, and “Cyborgs,” who integrated their task flow with AI and had continuous interaction with the technology. Overall, the study highlights the potential of AI in enhancing productivity and quality in knowledge-intensive tasks, but also emphasizes the need for understanding the limitations and optimal integration of AI into human workflows. Full PDF Analysis

Here is my analysis of the key aspects of this academic paper and its novelty and potential commercial applications:


  • This paper presents a unique large-scale randomized field experiment studying the integration of AI (specifically GPT-4) into real-world knowledge work tasks among highly skilled professionals. The experiment involved 758 management consultants from Boston Consulting Group, representing a significant real-world sample.
  • The study examines the impact of AI on complex realistic tasks designed to replicate consultants’ workflows, going beyond simplistic or synthetic tasks. The tasks spanned creativity, analysis, writing, and persuasion skills.
  • The paper introduces the important conceptual framing of the “jagged technological frontier” to represent how AI capabilities cover an expanding but uneven range of knowledge work. This frontier metaphor captures how similar tasks can fall inside or outside AI’s capabilities.
  • The study design compares tasks within and outside the frontier to show AI’s dual impact as a productivity booster and quality disruptor depending on the task’s positioning relative to AI capabilities. This sheds light on the nuances of human-AI integration.
  • The analysis identifies the emergence of two new collaboration models – “Centaurs” who divide tasks between humans and AI, and “Cyborgs” who intricately intertwine human and AI work. This provides a useful typology for human-AI configurations.

Commercial Applications:

  • The large real-world sample and task realism make the findings highly relevant for firms considering AI adoption and integration. The results can shape organizational policies and strategies.
  • Understanding the jagged frontier and associated risks can help firms identify domains where AI integration may boost vs. disrupt performance. This can optimize AI deployment and value.
  • Knowledge of the centaur and cyborg models provides actionable insights into effective human-AI collaboration styles that firms can promote through training, incentives, and job design.
  • The findings on lower collective variation with AI point to potential risks of idea homogenization that firms should mitigate to sustain innovation and diversity.
  • Overall, the paper offers data-driven guidance for organizations on if, when and how to integrate AI into knowledge work to amplify benefits and manage risks. The insights can shape AI adoption decisions and integration strategies.

In summary, this rigorous and thoughtful experiment provides novel theoretical framing and empirical insights that meaningfully advance our understanding of AI’s impact on knowledge work. The real-world setting and practical implications make this highly impactful for both research and practice.


Jagged technological frontier, AI, knowledge worker productivity, quality, consultants

Author’s Abstract

The public release of Large Language Models (LLMs) has sparked tremendous interest in how humans will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to accomplish a variety of tasks. In our study conducted with Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm, we examine the performance implications of AI on realistic, complex, and knowledge-intensive tasks. The pre-registered experiment involved 758 consultants comprising about 7% of the individual contributor-level consultants at the company. After establishing a performance baseline on a similar task, subjects were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: no AI access, GPT-4 AI access, or GPT-4 AI access with a prompt engineering overview. We suggest that the capabilities of AI create a “jagged technological frontier” where some tasks are easily done by AI, while others, though seemingly similar in difficulty level, are outside the current capability of AI. For each one of a set of 18 realistic consulting tasks within the frontier of AI capabilities, consultants using AI were significantly more productive (they completed 12.2% more tasks on average, and completed task 25.1% more quickly), and produced significantly higher quality results (more than 40% higher quality compared to a control group). Consultants across the skills distribution benefited significantly from having AI augmentation, with those below the average performance threshold increasing by 43% and those above increasing by 17% compared to their own scores. For a task selected to be outside the frontier, however, consultants using AI were 19 percentage points less likely to produce correct solutions compared to those without AI. Further, our analysis shows the emergence of two distinctive patterns of successful AI use by humans along a spectrum of human-AI integration. One set of consultants acted as “Centaurs,” like the mythical halfhorse/half-human creature, dividing and delegating their solution-creation activities to the AI or to themselves. Another set of consultants acted more like “Cyborgs,” completely integrating their task flow with the AI and continually interacting with the technology.

Read the full article here

Last updated on November 8th, 2023.