Military Culture

WWII cryptologist, math genius Alan Turing chosen as the face of new English currency

Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician credited with deciphering Nazi Germany’s impenetrable Enigma code, has been chosen as the face of Britain’s new £50 note.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney confirmed the selection Monday in an announcement at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, calling Turing “a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”

“As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far ranging and pathbreaking," Carney said.

Turing is best remembered for his groundbreaking work at Bletchley Park alongside other British cryptologists, whose collective efforts are credited with shortening the war and saving thousands of lives.

This period of his life was the subject of the 2014 feature film, “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Turing, whose pre- and post-war endeavors at the National Physical Laboratory and the University of Manchester have been credited with laying some of the groundwork for modern technology, was never recognized during his lifetime for his accomplishments due to his homosexuality — a crime in England until 1967.

British authorities arrested and charged Turing with “gross indecency” in 1952. He was subsequently forced to choose between imprisonment or a regimen of chemical castration.

Turing committed suicide in 1954, two years after beginning the ongoing procedure of hormonal injection. He was 41 years old.

It would not be until 2014, following multiple petitions and at the behest of Justice Minister Chris Grayling, that Turing was issued at royal pardon by Queen Elizabeth II.

“Society didn’t understand Alan Turing or his ideas on many levels but that was a reflection on us, not on him," technology entrepreneur Mike Lynch told the BBC in 2013.

"It has taken us 60 years to catch up.”

Turing was chosen for the £50 note from a list of candidates that included Ada Lovelace, Mary Anning, Paul Dirac, Rosalind Franklin and Stephen Hawking.

The bill features a number of elements that pay homage to the life and mind of Turing, including:

  • Blueprints for the British Bombe, the primary machine used to break the Nazi Enigma code
  • A quote by Turing that reads, “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be”
  • Ticker tape with binary code that, when translated, spells out Alan Turing’s date of birth.

“Alan Turing was a remarkable man who played a key role in saving this country in World War II by cracking the German Enigma code,” then-British Prime Minister David Cameron said in 2013.

“His action saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the ‘father of modern computing.’”

The note will appear in circulation by the end of 2021.

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