Alan Turing £50 Bank Note Enters Circulation

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New £50 polymer bank note bearing the photo of WW2 codebreaker and computing and AI pioneer Alan Turing enters circulation

The face of Alan Turing, best known for helping to crack enemy codes during the Second World War, but also a pioneer of early computing and artificial intelligence systems, has begun to appear on the Bank of England’s updated £50 note.

The Bank of England announced that its polymer £50 note entered circulation on Wednesday, joining the Winston Churchill £5, the Jane Austen £10 and the JMW Turner £20.

The arrival of this £50 note means that all Bank of England banknotes are now available on polymer.

It was back in July 2019 when mathematician Alan Turing was chosen from a list of nearly 1,000 scientists suggested by the general public, which was then narrowed down to a shortlist of 12.

Codebreaker, computing pioneer

When Turing was chosen, the bank of England highlighted his many achievements, mostly carried out at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire – the UK’s so called Station X, and the forerunner of the UK’s GCHQ today.

Turing was one of a number of genius codebreakers stationed at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

There he was part of the team that helped crack the Enigma code.

Besides being a formidable mathematician and cryptoanalyst, Turing was also a highly influential computer scientist who laid the foundations of computer science by thinking up a theoretical computer called the Turing Machine, and also helped create the world’s first modern computer, the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine.

The Bank at the time also acknowledged the legacy of Turing’s prosecution for homosexuality in 1952, under a law dating from 1885, as well as his posthumous pardon by the Queen in 2013.

Appalling treatment

“Our banknotes celebrate some of our country’s most important historical figures,” BoE Governor Andrew Bailey said, at Bletchley Park. “That’s why I am delighted that Alan Turing features on the new polymer £50 note.”

“Having undertaken remarkable codebreaking work here at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, he went on to pioneer work on early computers, as well as making some ground-breaking discoveries in the field of developmental biology,” said Bailey.

“He was also gay and was treated appallingly as a result,” said Bailey. “Placing him on this new banknote is a recognition of his contributions to our society, and a celebration of his remarkable life.”

It should be remembered that homosexuality was a criminal offence at that time. In 1952 Turing was convicted of gross indecency with another man.

As a result of this conviction, Turing was forced to choose between prison or chemical castration by taking female hormones.

He chose the latter and, two years later at the age of 41 years old, Turing tragically took his own life.

Turing’s legacy

But Turing’s legacy is not just recognised within the United Kingdom.

In October last year, Facebook threw a vital financial lifeline to Bletchley Park, with a £1 million donation.

In August the world famous centre had revealed it was facing a financial crisis and was preparing to make 35 people redundant (a third of its workforce), after being forced to close for months because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

But Facebook recognised the global importance of the centre, whose code-breaking activities was credited of shortening World War Two in Europe by two years.

Alan Turing mural at Facebook HQ

Facebook also revealed that it had a mural of Alan Turing made out of dominoes at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California (see above picture).

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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