Unusually, I know the names of all my ancestors along the male line since the 12th century, when a man named Robert de Poher was granted land in Ireland, near Waterford, by Henry II. The de Poher family originated in the Poher region of Brittany, and came to England during the Norman invasion. Over the centuries, the name de Poher changed to Poer and then to Power, which is now a common name in Ireland, as those who frequent Paddy Power's bookmaking chain can testify.

For some reason the Christian name Pierce (occasionally Piers) was popular in the family. One of my Pierce Power ancestors married Elizabeth Boyle, sister of the Earl of Cork Richard Boyle, whose son Robert discovered that the pressure of a gas is inversely proportional to its volume.

The family's religious affiliation switched from Catholic to Protestant during the Reformation, and I come from a branch dense in clergymen: my grandfather and three uncles were priests.


After taking a B.A. in psychology at Sheffield University from 1967-70, I studied for my Ph.D. at the Department of Machine Intelligence, Edinburgh University, from 1970-74, under the supervision of Professor Christopher Longuet-Higgins. From 1975-78 I was a research fellow at the Experimental Psychology Laboratory, Sussex University. I then moved to Padua, Italy, where I taught English at the University, and built expert systems for a Milan-based company called Artificial Intelligence Software. In 1993 I returned to Britain to work on Natural Language Generation at the Information Technology Research Institute (ITRI) at the University of Brighton, before moving in 2005 (along with some ITRI colleagues) to the Department of Computing at the Open University, where my partner Sandra Williams also works in the NLG group.