— Bank of England (@bankofengland) July 15, 2019
The Bank of England is making World War II Enigma code-breaker Alan Turing the face of the UK’s new 50-pound note. In addition to his work that helped quicken the end of the war, Turing is credited as being the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. “Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand,” Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney says. Without his amazing contributions, our world would not be what it is today.
So, how did code-cracking help win the Second World War? Thanks to Turing, intercepted encrypted messages sent by the Nazis were deciphered. By being able to crack them, it allowed the Allies to defeat the German army in bouts like the Battle of the Atlantic. After World War II, Turing worked at the National Physical Laboratory where he designed the Automatic Computing Engine—one of the first plans for a “stored-program computer,” in which the computer keeps programs in its electronic memory as opposed to using an external plugboard.
Despite his accomplishments and abilities, Turing was never properly recognized for his contributions during his short life. In fact, he was persecuted for his sexuality. Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for “gross indecency” for having a same-sex relationship, which at the time was illegal in the UK. He was punished by chemical castration and died in 1954 (unrelated to the castration). The Queen posthumously pardoned him in 2013.
The process of having Turing on the 50-pound note began in 2018 when the Banknote Character Advisory Committee decided to celebrate science on the denomination. A six-week public nomination process began and narrowed down the list to 12 individuals. From a shortlist, which included the likes of Stephen Hawking, Ada Lovelace, and Charles Babbage, the governor made the final choice.
The Turing banknote is expected to begin circulation in 2021.