Hi, engineers!

Alicia Landrum

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Q) I know a lot of employment positions are being replaced by robots. But I’m a student. Do you think students will ever be replaced by robots? Fantasize (nightmarishly, if we share the same outlook) about it.
A) I’m not sure if they wanted to know if students will be replaced or people who study or major in a specific field will be replaced. There are some fascinating and real possibilities and ramifications to both of those scenarios.
Let’s start with robots replacing jobs. First, let’s look at jobs that have been replaced by robots. Most of these jobs are in the manufacturing industry. Robots place a part on another part and perform the exact same task thousands of times all day every day. These are jobs that people generally don’t want to do, and the people that do them do not require a degree to perform.
Things are about to drastically change. This past summer, Foxxcon, a leading electronics manufacturer in China, released their plans to convert nearly entirely to robots. One of the world’s largest manufacturer employers will be laying off thousands of workers to have them replaced by robots. If this is the death rattle of Chinese manufacturing jobs, then this is the final note in the dirge of American manufacturing jobs.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s still hope. Once we realize that the manufacturing industry will never be what it once was, we can start pursuing its future in earnest. It’s not too late to revive American industry. We can use robots just as well on American soil as anywhere else. And once we have such a system in place, there will be a high demand for maintenance and technicians. The printing press might have destroyed the job market for scribes, but we are so much better off now with readily available and cheap books than we were without them. Yes there will be growing pains, jobs will be and have been destroyed, but the future will be awesome.
So how does this affect you? Will a robot ever take your specific job? It’s possible, but not very likely.
Will a robot ever write poetry? Can it produce art? Can a robot ever lead a company or act as a tour guide? You don’t have to have an extremely overactive imagination to say it’s possible.
Then there’s the issue of the uncanny valley, which, for those that don’t know, is basically the idea that as something becomes more human it becomes more endearing up until it is almost completely human, with a few idiosyncrasies. It becomes literally frightening or unnerving. Also, once artificial intelligence is just as intelligent as human intelligence, do the computers start having rights? We feel pain from sensors on our skin sending signals to our brain. How is that really any different than a simple sensor going to a computer processor?
Q) The Vernal Equinox is coming up! How far away is the sun from the Earth during the Equinox? What about the Winter Solstice?
A) Unfortunately, the sun is not much closer during the Equinox. That is actually an incredibly common misconception. The Equinox is the time when (if you are standing on the Equator) the sun is directly above your head. Not like above and off to your right, or above but slightly toward the south but directly–directly above your head. As in everything would have tiny shadows because everything’s shadows would go directly down. Like a perfect square resting on flat ground would have no shadow that you could see. Also, if you were standing at the North or South Pole during the Equinox, the Sun would be sitting on the horizon ALL DAY. It would travel around you in a circle while resting on the horizon and therefore being a 24-hour sunrise/sunset. Close to the day of the Equinox is the day of the Equilux. This is the day where, for your area or hemisphere, the day and night cycles are almost exactly 12 hours each. (This is also the time when the sun would be closest to directly above you for your hemisphere).
The Solstice is the opposite of the Equinox. This is the day when the sun is furthest from the horizon at the North or South Pole (and therefore closest at the Equator). (For reference the next Equinox is March 20th, the next Solstice is June 20th, and the Equilux for the U.S. is usually recognized on March 17th).
So the day you are most likely asking for about being the closest or furthest from the sun is the perihelion. We are closest to the sun (147.5 million kilometers) usually around January 4th and we are furthest away (152.6 million kilometers) around July 4th. Remember that south of the Equator it is summertime during our winter, so this is one of the major reasons why it is hotter there during their summer (our January) than it is up here during our summer (July). The sun gives about 7% more light and energy to Earth during the times when it is closest to the Earth, so during the perihelion in the Southern hemisphere it is 7% “brighter” than it is up here even in the middle of July!

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