Britain launches £ 50 bill in honor of Alan Turing, famous Code Breaker

LONDON – Mathematician Alan Turing spent World War II deciphering German codes and is considered by many historians to have helped to hasten the end of the conflict. But a conviction under Victorian indecency laws for his homosexuality left his postwar life in ruins.

On Thursday, the Bank of England released a bill introducing Turing, one of a series of efforts by Britain in recent years to remedy posthumously some of the mistakes inflicted on Turing during his lifetime.

Mr. Turing’s scientific contributions incorporated “the spirit of the nation” and “showed us the way to the future,” said Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, when presenting the bill. “By placing him on this new £ 50 banknote, we celebrate him for his achievements and the values ​​he symbolizes, of which we can all be very proud.”

The new account, worth about $ 68, features an image of Mr. Turing taken in 1951 by the photography studio Elliott & Fry and includes a quote he made in 1949 about one of his computer inventions: “This is just a taste of what is to come, and just a shadow of what is going to be. ”The bill will begin to circulate on June 23, Mr. Turing’s birthday.

Mr. Turing’s work provided a theoretical basis for modern computer science and artificial intelligence. During World War II, he was part of a team at Bletchley Park, Britain’s code-cracking center, which developed machines to speed up the decryption of intercepted German ciphers, which historians say probably shortened the war and saved it. lives.

But his work during the war remained largely secret during his lifetime, and his contributions did not protect him from prosecution because of his sexuality. Mr. Turing was convicted in 1952 under Victorian indecency laws that criminalized homosexuality, and he was forced to undergo chemical castration. He died two years later, at the age of 41, in an investigation that determined to be suicide.

It was only decades later, in 2009, that the British government apologized for Mr. Turing’s “terrible” treatment, and Queen Elizabeth II granted him a royal pardon in 2013. A law in his name that forgave men convicted in the past for homosexuality, was approved in 2017.

The Bank of England announced in 2019 that it had chosen Mr. Turing for the £ 50 bill. The project was last renovated in 2011 to feature James Watt, who helped develop the steam engine, and Matthew Boulton, its sponsor .

Paper money in Britain has the face of Queen Elizabeth on one side and pays homage to different personalities in British history on the other, depending on the denomination.

Mr. Turing was selected from a list of around 1,000 people reduced from entries by more than 220,000 members of the public. Other competitors included mathematicians Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace; the doctor Stephen Hawking; and Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister. The new banknote will be made of polymer, which allows for more security measures and makes counterfeiting more difficult.

Bailey, the bank’s governor, applauded Turing on Monday as “someone who, not content with abstract ideas, applied himself to the physical incorporation of those ideas,” adding, “from his willpower came huge leaps of progress. “

Turing’s face in the bill marked a “landmark moment in our history,” said Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ, a government intelligence and security organization, in a statement about the bill. The tribute celebrated Mr. Turing’s scientific genius and “confirms his status as one of the most iconic LGBT + figures in the world”.