Alan Turing will be the new face of the £50 bank note

15 Jul 2019

Sculpture of Alan Turing. Image: Graham Baker/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Bank of England has announced that renowned mathematician Alan Turing will be the new face on the £50 bank note.

65 years after his death, pioneering computer scientist and code breaker Alan Turing will receive one of the UK’s highest honours by being placed on one of its bank notes. The Bank of England made the announcement this morning (15 July) that Turing will appear on the new £50 polymer note due to enter circulation by the end of 2021.

Turing was chosen following the bank’s character selection process that aimed to celebrate someone in the field of science. After receiving 227,299 nominations from the public – including 989 eligible figures – the committee whittled it down to 12 before making the final decision.

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

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

A concept image of the £50 note coloured red with Alan Turing and other items associated within surrounding him.

Alan Turing on the future £50 note. Image: Bank of England

The reverse of the bank note will feature a portrait photo of Turing taken in 1951 as well as a number of other items closely tied with the scientist, including technical drawings for the machine crucial to breaking the Nazi Enigma messages of World War II and ticker tape depicting his date of birth in binary code.

In 1954, Turing was found dead by his housekeeper. It was later determined that he died by suicide from cyanide poisoning. This came just two years after Turing’s life as one the UK’s most important scientists was upended after being convicted of ‘gross indecency’ for having a relationship with a man.

To avoid a prison sentence, Turing accepted probation on the terms that he take oestrogen hormone pills, otherwise referred to as ‘chemical castration’. Because of his prosecution, he was no longer allowed to work with GCHQ because “homosexuals were ineligible for security clearance”.

In 2009, then British prime minister Gordon Brown made an official, posthumous apology for Turing’s treatment during his life. Four years later, he received a royal pardon and in 2017 the Alan Turing law was passed, posthumously pardoning gay men cautioned or convicted of sexual offences.

Sculpture of Alan Turing. Image: Graham Baker/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic