The Bank of England has revealed the latest face of the £50 note: mathematician, codebreaker, and renowned computer scientist Alan Turing. The new polymer note is expected to reach circulation by the end of 2021.
Last year, the Banknote Character Advisory Committee decided to use the new £50 note to celebrate the world of science. They asked members of the public to put forward who they would like to see grace the UK’s most valuable banknote and a total of 227,299 people took part. A winner was then chosen by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, who selected Turing from a narrowed-down group of 12 that included Rosalind Franklin, Stephen Hawking, Mary Anning, and Dorothy Hodgkin.
“Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today,” Carney said in a statement. “As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far ranging and path-breaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”
Described as a genius by his school teachers, Turing graduated with a first-class degree in mathematics from the University of Cambridge in 1934 and gained a PhD from Princeton in 1938. A year later war was declared and he was asked to work as a code-breaker for the British Government. Turing played an instrumental role in bringing the Second World War to a close by breaking the Enigma code, which was used by the Nazis for covert communications.
Turing is often described as the father of computer science. While at Bletchley Park he developed a machine called the Bombe to decipher the messages encrypted by Enigma machines, and his work has had a huge impact on the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence. He devised the Imitation Game, now known as the Turing Test, a way to determine whether a computer is capable of thinking like a human.
While Turing made huge contributions to both the war effort and science in general, he was persecuted by the British Government for being gay. On discovering that he had had a sexual relationship with a man, the police charged him with gross indecency in 1952 (homosexuality wasn’t decriminalized in the UK until 1967). To avoid prison, Turing chose to be chemically castrated.
On June 7, 1954, Turing was found dead from cyanide poisoning, with an inquest concluding that he took his own life. In 2013, the Queen issued a posthumous pardon to Turing, apologizing for the way he was treated.
As well as an image of Turing the new £50 note will include a table and mathematical formulae from one of his papers, his signature, and technical drawings of the Bombe. It will also include a quote he gave The Times in 1949: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”
“His legacy continues to have an impact on both science and society today,” the Bank of England said.