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Must-see science videos of 2011

by Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News /  / Updated 

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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:

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. 

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