Some Things Will Never Be Replaced
Just a couple of weeks ago, Open AI launched a new program called “Jukebox”. It generates original music in the style of famous pop stars. You feed the lightning quick neural net a request to create a composition in the style of Aretha Franklin, for example, and it comes up with a rather convincing song complete with orchestration, lyrics, and vocals – an audacious artificial intelligence daring to impersonate the great Queen of Soul herself. The program analyzes enormous amounts of data in order to calculate perfect tonal range, pitch, harmonies, intervals, syncopations and time signatures.
I tested the impressive “Jukebox” just a day before interviewing Erica Farrow – one of the biggest Aretha fans there is. She suggested we meet at Starbucks, which made perfect sense – Erica works nights at GoodLife and naturally caffeine is her friend. I went for my usual Americano while she chose one of the staples of the famous franchise.
The Starbucks caramel Frappuccino is one of those things you just can’t drink slowly. I’m not sure what kind of sorcerous dust they sprinkle on it, but the darn concoction is irresistibly tasty. That being said, a full hour into our conversation Erica has barely touched her drink. Somehow, this also makes sense. The more I talk to her the more I realize she is one of those people who understand the importance of slowing down. Our life has become so hectic, so impatient. In a world of blinking screens, sensory overload, constant distractions, 24-hour news cycles and even shorter attention spans, the precious few like Erica are increasingly rare. She recognizes the value of a good moment, captures it and manages to stay inside of it for as long as she pleases. Time doesn’t control her – she controls time. In fact, this is one of the reasons she’s been working night shifts for more than five years now. She shaped her schedule in a way that allows her to spend valuable time with her children and help as much as possible in raising her grandchildren. There is nothing more important to Erica than her family. She came to the coffeeshop with her wonderful daughter who is expecting a daughter of her own this summer. The connection between them was palpable. It was more than compassion – it was pure love. The baby will be named Marie – after Erica’s mother. If you sense a pattern of matriarchal continuity, you will not be wrong. Mothers are revered and respected in this family.
That same motherly love is the glue that keeps the household together. Everyone sort of gravitates around Erica. Her youngest kid is still in high school while her older children are pursuing their own path in life while still staying close to her.
Family gatherings and meals are of utmost importance. Erica, you see, is a spectacular cook. My guess is that her methodical approach to life pays off in the kitchen too. To her, cooking is an artform and she knows you can’t rush a good meal just like you can’t rush an artistic masterpiece. Her dishes, whether it’s barbecue, cornbread or cabbage are always eagerly anticipated. The dinner table is transformed from a mere place into the heart and soul of family life.
What is even more impressive is how seamlessly Erica has extended the love for her family to the men and women served by GoodLife. Working at night has its benefits but also presents unique challenges. You must juggle multiple responsibilities, perform important tasks, take care of routine issues, and sometimes teach new skills to awake residents while maintaining a quiet and peaceful environment for those who are asleep. Erica does all of it and more… Nothing ever fazes her, and her perfectionism and complete control of crisis situations have become legendary. I was told by several managers that she is one of the most reliable and hardworking staff members they’ve ever seen.
Her first position was at Morning Dove Circle. It was there when she realized how much difference she can make in people’s lives. Throughout the years, she has taken her brand of professionalism to various GoodLife locations like Elmwood, Ponderosa, Harper, Terrace, and Atchison. In the process, she would inevitably get attached to the residents, learn everything about them, surround them with kindness and care and welcome them into her orbit.
Having been raised in Kansas City, KS, Erica’s has a big passion for the Kansas City Chiefs. “I love watching the games on Sundays,” she says, “Sometimes with friends and family but sometimes completely on my own. I’d put on my Chiefs gear and cheer for Mahomes and Kelce. I still haven’t been to Arrowhead. It’s a dream to have that experience and maybe even meet Patrick one day.”
Erica Farrow has spent most of her life in the Kansas City area, but she relocated briefly to Texarkana where she worked in the home health industry. Her skillset was a natural fit, but tragedy struck, and she decided to come back to Kansas just two years later. “I lost my mother”, remembers Erica, “I was devastated. Our bond was so powerful, that everything around reminded me of her. My emotions would take over and I couldn’t function anymore.”
A good friend of hers from Topeka told her that GoodLife would be a perfect fit and although she was a little nervous about the job the training program really helped remove all the jitters.
The rest is history.
“I don’t do this job for a paycheck”, told me Erica, “I never did. I do it out of passion!”
Today, Erica is considered one of the best direct support professionals in the agency. Her future plans are to continue her employment at GoodLife and grow her career within the organization.
Erica is more of a doer than a talker. She is laconic and soft-spoken, so it took a while for our conversation to truly unfold. Once it did, I found out how much she loves music. Her voice was discovered in Washington High School, and she became a soprano in the very accomplished choir.
“Now, I sing all the time”, shared Erica, “Not to impress anyone but just for myself – in the car, at home, really…everywhere. I love soul and R&B – Monica, Keyshia Cole, and most of all – Aretha Franklin.”
Which takes me back to Open AI and its attempt to emulate the Queen of Soul and some of the greatest performers of our time. In the last six months artificial intelligence has become ubiquitous. Multiple chat bots have infiltrated our society and have shaken up entire industries. Highschool and college students are using Chat GPT to write their assignments, while lawyers, financial consultants, computer programmers and even psychiatrists have started losing their clients. Recently, Microsoft’s chatbot even exhibited worrisome signs of self-awareness. Simultaneously, giant corporations invested billions of dollars in these technologies in order to commercialize them as fast as possible.
Should we be worried? Could it be that a simple dialogue box is on the precipice of creating a dystopian society? Is our free will going to be replaced by an artificial one? Will an entire army of professionals become unemployed? And is the last bastion of humanity – the arts going to be conquered by digital creators?
There is a lot of symmetry in the literary works, poems, visual art and music generated by artificial intelligence. There are perfectly constructed sentences, elegant harmonies, even golden ratio. But I guarantee you, if you take a closer look, you will realize that something is missing. Something almost imperceptible but very, very important. Something beyond the reach of the chatbot overlords. Something that makes me believe the future still belongs to natural intelligence.
What is that thing, you might ask? It is that heavenly asymmetry we call a human being. It is the beauty of imperfection. It is the ability to savor every sip of…the good life, like a good cup of Frappuccino. Some things will never be replaced – like Aretha’s music…you don’t listen to it – you feel it. Some things will never be replaced – like mother’s love. Some things will never be replaced – like the meaning of Mrs. Farrow’s job. You know, the one she does for passion. Some things will never be replaced – like the essence of Erica, captured inside these timeless lyrics I once heard in a beautiful song by the great Aretha Franklin:
I have seen a rainbow
Circle across the sky
And I have stood on a mountain
And watched an eagle fly
I have seen trees in a meadow
Shelter a morning dove
But I haven’t seen anything
To match the wonder of a mother’s love
I have seen a sunset
More beautiful than gold
And I have stood by a rosebed
And watched the leaves unfoldI have seen so many wonders
And blessings from above
But I haven’t seen anything
To match the wonder of a mother’s love