Alan Turing has been chosen to feature on the new Bank of England £50 note following a lengthy selection process.
The computing pioneer and renowned WW2 codebreaker was one of a host of shortlisted individuals, which included Ada Lovelace, Stephen Hawking, James Clerk Maxwell and Mary Anning.
When it enters circulation in 2021, the new £50 note will be the last in a series of switchovers from paper-based currency to new polymer notes.
Commenting on the decision, Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, said: “Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today. 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.”
The Bank of England launched a public consultation last year asking people across the country to choose a character to feature on the new note. The campaign specifically sought to recognise the UK’s “extraordinary” scientific heritage, with the campaign asking people to “Think Science” when choosing their desired historical figure.
Carney said the bank was “overwhelmed” by the public response to the campaign. In six weeks, almost 250,000 nominations were submitted. From this, the banks “distilled a very long list of nearly 1,000 unique characters,” Carney commented.
Today, Turing is arguably one of the most celebrated figures from Britain’s scientific community. His role in the “Enigma” codebreaking efforts during the Second World War helped provide the allies with a cutting-edge over Nazi Germany.
Turing is also recognised as a pioneer in the field of computing and played a massive role in the development of early computing devices. After the war, he contributed key ideas such as implementing functions by flexible programming, rather than pre-set, built-in electronic components.
Working first at the National Physical Laboratory in London, and later at the Computing Machine Laboratory at Manchester University, Turing’s insights helped lead to the creation of the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE).
In 1952 Turing was convicted of “gross indecency” following his arrest for having an affair with a 19-year-old man. He was subsequently chemically castrated and died in June of 1954. It was not until 2013 that Turing would receive a posthumous royal pardon.
In a statement, the Bank of England said: “He set the foundations for work on artificial intelligence by considering the question of whether machines could think. Turing was homosexual and was posthumously pardoned by the Queen having been convicted of gross indecency for his relationship with a man. His legacy continues to have an impact on both science and society today.
“The shortlisted options demonstrate the breadth of scientific achievement in the UK, from astronomy to physics, chemistry to palaeontology and mathematics to biochemistry.”