Bank of England picks World War-II code-breaker Turing for banknotes

Cheryl Sanders
July 18, 2019

In the United Kingdom, £50 notes are not commonly used in many daily transactions, and some retailers refuse to accept them.

"Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today", the Bank of England's Governor, Mark Carney, said in unveiling the new note to media.

"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", Carney said.

While at Bletchley Park, Turing came up with ways to break German ciphers, including improvements to pre-World War II Polish methods for finding the settings for German Enigma machines.

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.


But Turing had his job taken away from him and was sentenced to chemical castration in 1952, after being convicted of gross indecency, for being in a sexual relationship with a man - a criminal offense at the time. It's really wonderful that Alan Turing is being recognized in this way. The test was a starting point for artificial intelligence used in the present day. He was pardoned from the conviction in 2013. It will include a quote from Turing: "This is only a foretaste of what is to come and only the shadow of what is going to be".

Former lawmaker John Leech, who led the campaign for a pardon, said he was "absolutely delighted" by the choice.

"I couldn't think of a more deserving candidate".

The Bank asked the public to offer suggestions for the scientist whose portrait should appear on the £50 note. The Bank said it had received a total of 227,299 nominations, covering 989 eligible characters.

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


Vernon and his co-campaigner Zehra Zaidi worked for months to garner support and petition the Bank of England to put a BAME person on the £50 note.

Jane Austen will continue to be the only woman, apart from the Queen, whose image will be seen on the four notes.

The existing 50-pound banknote features engineer James Watt and his business partner Matthew Boulton, who developed and marketed the steam engine in the late 18th century.

Turing, who is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, was picked from a list of nearly 1,000 other scientists.

Also included is Turing's birthdate displayed as binary code and on binary tape fed into a computer. Published by the Harvard Kennedy School where Sands is a research fellow, the paper argued that high-value notes are the preferred payment mechanism of those pursuing illicit activities, given the anonymity and lack of transaction record they offer, and the relative ease with which they can be transported and moved.


Yet with 50-pound notes, that logic is marginal.

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