England’s £50 note new face is Alan Turing

Computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing will feature on the new design of the Bank of England’s £50 note.

He is celebrated for his code-cracking work that proved vital to the Allies in World War Two.

The £50 note will be the last of the Bank of England collection to switch from paper to polymer when it enters circulation by the end of 2021.

The note was once described as the “currency of corrupt elites” and is the least used in daily transactions.

However, there are still 344 million £50 notes in circulation, with a combined value of £17.2bn, according to the Bank of England’s banknote circulation figures.

“Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today,” said Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

“As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as a war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far-ranging and path breaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”

Why was Turing chosen?

The work of Alan Turing, who was educated in Sherborne, Dorset, helped accelerate Allied efforts to read German Naval messages enciphered with the Enigma machine.

Less celebrated is the pivotal role he played in the development of early computers, first at the National Physical Laboratory and later at the University of Manchester.

In 2013, he was given a posthumous royal pardon for his 1952 conviction for gross indecency following which he was chemically castrated. He had been arrested after having an affair with a 19-year-old Manchester man.

The Bank said his legacy continued to have an impact on science and society today.

Alan Turing played an absolutely crucial role in Allied victories through his codebreaking work. He is also considered a towering figure in the development of computing.

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1912 – 1954

  • 1912Alan Mathison Turing was born in West London
  • 1936Produced “On Computable Numbers”, aged 24
  • 1952Convicted of gross indecency for his relationship with a man
  • 2013Received royal pardon for the conviction

Yet for decades, the idea of Turing being featured on a banknote seemed impossible. This will be seen as an attempt to signal how much has changed in society following the long, ultimately successful campaign to pardon Turing of his 1952 conviction – under contemporary laws – for having a homosexual relationship.

His work helped cement the concept of the algorithm – the set of instructions used to perform computations – that are at the heart of our relationship with computers today. He was also a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence: one of his best known achievements in this field is the Turing Test, which aims to measure whether a machine is “intelligent”.

Former Manchester MP and gay rights campaigner John Leech, who campaigned for Alan Turing’s pardon, said: “This is a fitting and welcome tribute to a true Manchester hero.

“But more importantly I hope it will serve as a stark and rightfully painful reminder of what we lost in Turing, and what we risk when we allow that kind of hateful ideology to win.”

The Bank asked the public to offer suggestions for the scientist whose portrait should appear on the £50 note. In six weeks, the Bank received 227,299 nominations covering 989 eligible scientists.

A shortlist was drawn up by a committee, including experts from the field of science, before the governor made the final decision.

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