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New face of £50 note is Imitation Game code breaker Alan Turing

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
A mock-up image of Alan Turing on the new £50 note. Photo: Bank of England

Alan Turing has been revealed as the new face of the UK £50 note.

The Bank of England announced on Monday that Bletchley Park code breaker Turing would be on the new bank note, which is expected to enter circulation towards the end of 2021.

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

“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.”

Who was Alan Turing?

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch played Alan Turing in the 2014 film biopic 'The Imitation Game'. Photo: Stuart C Wilson/Getty Images

Turing was an English mathematician and computer scientist in the first half of the 20th century. He was a key figure at Bletchley Park, Britain’s top secret German codebreaking facility during the second world war, and helped to develop a machine to crack the German’s Enigma code writing machine.

Turing was also a pioneer of artificial intelligence and computer science. He is credited with creating the Turing Test, a concept still used to this day to explore the idea of machine intelligence.

While Turing played a crucial role in helping the Allies win the second world war, his treatment by the British government in the post-war years has been the source of great controversy.

Turing was gay and was convicted of indecency in 1952. As part of his conviction, he was forced to undergo chemical sterilisation. Turing killed himself two years later at the age of 41.

The Queen gave Turing a royal pardon in 2013 after a public campaign and a 2017 law pardoning all those convicted of historic laws against homosexuality was dubbed the “Alan Turing law” in his honour.

Turing was played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the 2014 film The Imitation Game, which chronicled his time at Bletchley Park, his treatment after the war, and his death.

Stephen Hawking nominated

Stephen Hawking was also nominated to feature on the new note. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

The Bank of England chose Turing from a shortlist of almost 1,000 eligible names nominated by the public.

The Bank opened nominations for the new £50 note to the public and received 227,299 names during a six-week period that ended in December. It narrowed this down to a shortlist of 989 eligible names.

Those considered spanned scientific fields such as astronomy, biology, bio-technology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and medical research. The Bank said on Monday that other people nominated included Paul Dirac, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, Stephen Hawking, and Ernest Rutherford.

“The strength of the shortlist is testament to the UK’s incredible scientific contribution,” Sarah John, the Bank of England’s chief cashier, said.

“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.”

Turing will replace Matthew Boulton and James Watt on the £50 note. Boulton and Watt were leading figures of the industrial revolution.

Alongside a picture of Turing, the new £50 note will mathematical formulae from one of Turing’s most influential papers, technical drawings of the code breaking machine Turing helped to develop, and his birth date in binary code.

The Bank of England has been revamping its currency over the last few years — from the materials the notes are made from to the pictures that adorn the currency.

In 2017, the central bank unveiled its first plastic £10 note, which featured 19th century British novelist Jane Austen. The plastic, or polymer, notes are a lot more durable than previous notes. However, they have drawn criticism from vegetarians and some religious groups for containing trace amounts of animal fats.