The mathematician, whose early AI contributions included the ‘Turing test’, is lauded for his wartime codebreaking work and his ongoing legacy
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, is to feature on the Bank of England’s updated £50 note.
The note, set to appear in 2021, will be the last to make the switch from paper to polymer, following a £20 note featuring painter JMW Turner arriving next year.
The polymer £5 bill featuring Winston Churchill and the £10 note with an image of Jane Austen are already in use.
Mathematician Turing was chosen from a list of nearly 1,000 scientists suggested by the public, which was then narrowed down to a shortlist of 12.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney, announcing the decision at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, evoked the influence of Turing’s work on the modern world.
“As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far ranging and path breaking,” Carney said. “Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”
Turing contributed to work on early computers, first at the National Physical Laboratory and later at the University of Manchester, and in 1950 devised the “Turing test” of a machine’s ability to exhibit behaviour similar to that of a human being – the forerunner of the online tests used today to allow access to humans, but to bar automated systems.
“He set the foundations for work on artificial intelligence by considering the question of whether machines could think,” the Bank said.
“His legacy continues to have an impact on both science and society today,” the Bank said.
The shortlisted individuals, or pairs of individuals, were Mary Anning, Paul Dirac, Rosalind Franklin, William Herschel and Caroline Herschel, Dorothy Hodgkin, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, Stephen Hawking, James Clerk Maxwell, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Ernest Rutherford, Frederick Sanger and Alan Turing.
“The strength of the shortlist is testament to the UK’s incredible scientific contribution,” said Sarah John, the Bank’s chief cashier. “The breadth of individuals and achievements reflects the huge range of nominations we received for this note and I would to thank the public for all their suggestions of scientists we could celebrate.”