The new face of the £50 note
Since 1970 the Bank of England has celebrated people who have shaped British society, through though their innovation, leadership or values, by featuring them on its banknotes.
The new polymer £50 note, due into circulation at the end of 2021, will feature Alan Turing. The wartime mathematician is recognised as a key figure in Britain’s codebreaking efforts at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, a mathematical genius and even the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence.
Before the Second World War, Turing was already working for the British Government’s Code and Cypher School, but in 1939 he took up a full-time role at Bletchley Park where his main focus was cracking the Enigma code, used by the German armed forces to send messages securely.
Turing personally broke the form of Enigma that was used by the U-boats preying on the North Atlantic merchant convoys. It has been estimated that this shortened the war by two to three years, saving 14 to 21 million lives. In 1945 Turing was awarded an OBE for his services to the country.
Father of Modern Computing
After the war Turing worked on the design of the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) at the National Physical Laboratory, which many people see as the forerunner to the modern computer. In 1949 he became Deputy Director of the Computing Machine Laboratory at the Victoria University of Manchester, working on software for one of the earliest stored-program computers - the Manchester Mark 1.
When Time Magazine named Turing as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century it said, "The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine."
But his achievements didn’t stop there. His work spanned other disciplines, including biology and chemistry. He was also a talented long-distance runner and it was said that while working at Bletchley he would run the 40 miles (64 km) to London when he needed to attend meetings there.
The new £50 note will feature a portrait and signature of Turing, images and symbols from the computers he helped create, and a quote: "This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be."
Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, perhaps put it best when he 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 [a] war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far ranging and path breaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”