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UK Unveils £50 Note Featuring Computing Legend Alan Turing

(Credit: Bank of England)

Alan Turing, the computing pioneer and World War II code breaker, now has his face on the English pound.  

On Thursday, the Bank of England unveiled the newly designed £50 note, which features Turing’s image on the back. It will enter circulation on June 23, the day Turing was born.

In 2019, the Bank of England announced it had selected Turing to be on the £50 note out of 989 eligible figures, which included physicist Stephen Hawking and mathematician Ada Lovelace, another early computing pioneer. 

In selecting Turing, the bank cited his work in World War II to break the Nazi’s Enigma Code, and his contributions to computer science and artificial intelligence. The work included the Turing Machine, a theoretical model he published in 1936, which essentially lays out how a computer can operate and process data.  

Alan Turing on the bill

Credit: Bank of England

The £50 note itself features a table and mathematical formula from Turing’s 1936 paper, which introduced the concept of a Turing machine. Another picture on the bill shows the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) Pilot Machine, an early computer he helped design, and a ticker tape depicting Turing’s birth date, but written in binary code.  

However, Turing lived a relatively short life. In 1952, he was convicted for “gross indecency” after admitting to having a relationship with another man, which the UK considered a criminal offense. Rather than face prison time, Turing chose what amounted to a chemical castration. He then died in 1954, at the age of 41, likely due to suicide. 

The UK intelligence agency, GCHQ, commented on the importance of featuring Turing on the British currency. “Not only is it a celebration of his scientific genius which helped to shorten the war and influence the technology we still use today, it also confirms his status as one of the most iconic LGBT+ figures in the world,” said GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming. 

“Turing was embraced for his brilliance and persecuted for being gay. His legacy is a reminder of the value of embracing all aspects of diversity, but also the work we still need to do to become truly inclusive,” Fleming added. Due to his conviction, Turing was barred from working for the GCHQ, which had a strict ban against gay employees until the 1990s, according to the BBC.

Turing joins other UK historical figures in getting his face on a British banknote. Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, and painter JMW Turner are featured on back of the £5, £10, and £20 polymer notes, respectively. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, is featured on the front side of all bills.

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