In a tribute long coming, Bank of England has announced that computer pioneer and WWII codebreaker Alan Turing will feature on the new £50 note.
The pink-and-green note will be the last of the Bank of England collection to switch from paper to polymer when it enters circulation by the end of 2021, reported the BBC. Apart from a photograph of the mathematician, the note will also feature a ticker tape of binary code that spells out his birthday – June 23, 1912.
The note will also include a quote from the genius, “This is only a foretaste of what is to come and only the shadow of what is going to be.”
The legendary mathematician played a crucial role in the WWII Allied victory, solving Adolf Hitler’s Enigma code system. Thought to be virtually unbreakable, the Enigma encryption machine was used by Germans to communicate vital military operations. The code “offered approximately 158,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible solutions,” according to one estimation by the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Considered the father of artificial intelligence, Turing’s 1936 paper On Computable Numbers developed some of the concepts of algorithms. His Turing test is still used to determine if a machine is intelligent or not.
Turing’s work won him the title of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. However, seven years after the war Turing was convicted of “gross indecency” for pursuing a relationship with a 19-year-old man.
Given a choice between chemical castration and imprisonment as punishment, he chose the former. The mathematician’s security clearance was removed and he was barred from continuing his work on cryptography at the British Government Communications Headquarters.
An official pardon was granted to Turing only in 2013.
For decades Turing’s contributions to math and science were ignored due to social taboos around his sexuality. Lonely and ousted, Turing was just 41 when he died from cyanide poisoning in 1954. An inquest determined his death as suicide, but it has been noted that the known evidence is also consistent with accidental poisoning.
According to another theory, Turing’s prosecution was due to the government’s fears that he could become a security risk, wrote biographer David Leavitt, in The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Haunted and in turmoil, Turing’s letters to a friend reveal the toll that forced psychotherapy took on his mental health. “I expect to lie in the sun, talk French and modern Greek, and make love, though the sex and nationality... has yet to be decided: in fact, it is quite possible that this item will be altogether omitted,” he wrote in one such letter.
The 2014 film Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, brought the tragic story of Alan Turing to a wider public.