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Must-see science videos of 2011

What happens when you let two bots have a conversation? Cornell researchers Igor Labutov, Jason Yosinski and Hod Lipson find out. Follow the links at the bottom of this post for more about "AI vs. AI."



Laughing babies, talking dogs and Rebecca Black may be Internet sensations, but if you want to add something more substantive to your viral video diet, turn your dial to dueling chatbots, dancing Ph.D. theses and other highlights from the past year's surfeit of science videos.

Talking bots can be just as surprising and silly as talking dogs. Take "AI vs. AI," for example. Cornell researchers Igor Labutov, Jason Losinski and Hod Lipson took two Cleverbot artificial-intelligence programs, hooked them up to each other, and typed in "Hi" as an ice-breaker. Hilarity ensues.

"We just assembled the pieces, the audio and the avatars, and let the program run," Lipson, an associate professor at the Cornell Creative Machines Lab, told me today.


The funniest line in the video comes when one AI program tells the other that they're chatting together as robots. The other bot replies, "I am not a robot, I am a unicorn." Where did that come from?

"The conversations are based on millions of conversations that it had before," Lipson said. "Probably this term is something it had encountered in some conversation with a human." The best guess is that someone made a reference to the unicorn from Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass," and somehow that stuck in the Cleverbot's electronic brain.

The takeaway is that artificially intelligent chatbots can become as petulant and irrational as the humans who made them. This Cleverbot conversation provides further evidence of that. ("I'm talking about you ... how you are a creep," one clone-bot tells another.)

Here are 10 other clever and creepy science videos from 2011 to while away the minutes with. I've added links to more information about each of them at the bottom of this item:

Science educator James Drake put together 600 pictures from the International Space Station to create this video view of an orbital night flight. It's been viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube since September. Follow the links at the bottom for more night-flight videos.

The top video in this year's "Dance Your Ph.D" contest was "Microstructure-Property Relationships in Ti2448 Components Produced by Selective Laser Melting: A Love Story" from Joel Miller on Vimeo. Follow the links at the bottom to watch more winners from the "Dance Your Ph.D" video file.

One of the year's most trafficked videos is "A Day Made of Glass," which depicts Corning's vision for a glassy future. It's been viewed more than 16 million times on YouTube since February. Follow the links at the bottom of this story for more about the future of glass.

An octopus rises from the deep at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in California ... and walks over land on its legs. It turns out this behavior is not all that uncommon. The video is among Txchnologist's top 10 science videos. Follow the links at the bottom for more about walking octopi and the Txchnologist list..

Speaking of octopi, here's a soft robot that crawls along a surface like an octopus out of water. Follow the links at the bottom to see more videos from Chemical & Engineering News.

Soft robots may look cute, but this hard-charging AlphaDog Proto looks downright creepy. It's being developed by Boston Dynamics with funding from DARPA and the U.S. Marine Corps. The first version of the complete robot will be ready in 2012. Follow the links at the bottom to learn more about AlphaDog.

Minute Physics focuses on the faster-than-light neutrino research in its latest video. Follow the links listed below for more from Minute Physics.

Quantum levitation sounds like a science-fiction phenomenon, but the Superconductivity Group at the University of Tel Aviv shows that it really, really works. Watch this report from TODAY.com's Dara Brown, and follow the links at the bottom of this post to learn more.

In one of a series of math-themed videos, Vi Hart takes potshots at pi and talks up tau instead. And she proves she can make a cherry pie. Follow the links at the bottom for more about Hart and Tau Day.

The "Readers Choice" honors in the 2011 Labby Awards went to "Weaver Ants" by Mark Moffett and Melissa Wells. This video was posted by thescientistllc on Vimeo. Follow the links below for more about the Labbies.

Update for 8:35 p.m. ET: For 10 more must-see, humorous science videos, check out this Tree of Life blog posting by UC-Davis biologist Jonathan A. Eisen. He says his No. 1 pick,  the "Bad Project" Lady Gaga parody, is "simply awesome" — and I simply agree.

More about the videos:

More year-end reviews:


Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.