Alan Turing is the face of new polymer £50 note

New note is expected to enter circulation by the end of 2021.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

The concept design for UK's new polymer £50 note, featuring Alan Turing.

(Image: Bank of England)

Alan Turing, one of the pioneering figures in modern computing, has been chosen to be the face of the UK's £50 note.

The selection process for who would appear on the new note was open to the UK public, which provided over 200,000 votes for nearly 1,000 different nominations. These nominations were whittled down to a shortlist that included the following people: Mary Anning, Paul Dirac, Rosalind Franklin, William and Caroline Herschel, Dorothy Hodgkin, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, Stephen Hawking, James Clerk Maxwell, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Ernest Rutherford, Frederick Sanger, and Alan Turing. 

Turing was ultimately chosen from the shortlist, the Bank of England said, with the bank consulting with scientific experts when making the decision. 

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

See also: Alan Turing: 10 ideas beyond Enigma

The Banknote Character Advisory Committee had announced in 2018 that the face of the UK's £50 polymer note would be someone who worked in the science field. 

Turing is famous for creating the theoretical underpinnings for the modern computer, which includes his development of code-breaking machines during World War II, in addition to helping create early computers at the National Physical Laboratory and at the University of Manchester. 

He also created foundations for work on artificial intelligence by considering the question of whether machines could think.

The decision to anoint Turing as the face of the £50 polymer note follows the Queen in 2013 issuing a posthumous royal pardon for unjustly convicting him of being a homosexual, which was illegal at the time. As a result of his conviction, he was chemically castrated and lost his security clearance to work for the government.

"His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed," then-Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said at the time of the pardon being issued. 

"Dr Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man."

See also: Cyber spies take a step out of the shadows with history of codebreaking    

The new polymer £50 note design has not yet been finalised, but it will feature a 1951 photo of Turing, a table of Turing's mathematical formulae from his 1936 paper On Computable Numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem -- which has been widely recognised as being foundational for computer science -- and his signature from the visitor's book at Bletchley Park, among other details.

Bletchley Park, the iconic estate where Alan Turing and many other codebreakers helped decrypt Nazi communications, is currently home to UK's first National College for Cyber Security. 

The college is aimed at nurturing the cybersecurity skills of 'gifted' 16 to 19-year olds, and is backed by QUFARO, a not-for-profit body created by senior figures at Cyber Security Challenge UK and the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.

The new polymer £50 note is set to be rolled out in 2021.

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