A couple of years ago I interviewed an expert in natural language translation - she'd have laughed at this.

The person in question: Karen Sparck-Jones, who won the BCS Lovelace medal. Her area of expertise was in automatic language and information processing research which she had worked on from the late 1950s.

The story: As all road signs in Wales need to be bilingual, a local authority emailed its in-house translation service for the Welsh version of: 'No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only.' So far, so dull.

But, as Welsh language magazine Golwg no doubt took great delight in reporting, this is what the Welsh language bit read: 'I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.'

See the story in all its glory...

To learn more about Karen check out the interview I did with her only a few weeks before she died. It demonstrates how academic ideas eventually filter into the real world - a paper Karen wrote in 1972 laid an important basis for the development of the Alta Vista search engine.

Of course what academics, or anyone else, can't make up for is human error - or 'stupidity' as some like to call it.

About the author

Brian Runciman is Head of Content at BCS and blogs about the Institute’s role in making IT good for society, historical developments in computing, the implications of CS research and more.