WWII Codebreaking Hero Alan Turing, Castrated for Being Gay, Will Be New Face of £50 Note

The new banknote will enter circulation in late 2021.

Mathematician, codebreaker, and computing pioneer Alan Turing, who was convicted under anti-gay laws, will be the new face of Britain’s £50 note, the Bank of England announced on Monday, July 15.

Governor Mark Carney said Turing was “a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand,” and a video released by the Bank of England described him as “a fitting tribute to the intelligence of our species.”

Turing is best known for his work breaking Nazi Germany’s secret Enigma code, hastening the end of WWII and saving thousands of lives. Benedict Cumberbatch played the scientist in the 2014 film The Imitation Game.

His also played a key role in the creation of computers, and his visionary work on artificial intelligence included the creation of “The Turing Test,” in 1950, which tests a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligence indistinguishable from that of a human.

The new £50 note, which is set to enter circulation by the end of 2021, includes a ticker tape of binary code spelling out Turing’s birthday, a depiction of the “British Bombe” machine that helped break the Enigma code, and a quote he gave to a newspaper in 1949: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”

Alan Turing
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Following WWII, Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality, which was illegal at the time. He was chemically castrated, and he died at age 41, in 1954, after eating an apple laced with cyanide. He was given a posthumous apology from the British government in 2009, as well as a royal pardon four years later.

In addition to the redesign, the new note, which is Britain’s highest denomination, will be switched from paper to a more durable polymer. The 10 pound and 20 pound notes are also getting a redesign, and will feature author Jane Austen and artist J.M.W. Turner, respectively.

Former lawmaker John Leech, who headed up the campaign for Turing’s pardon, said he was “absolutely delighted” by the news that the scientist would be so honored.

“I hope it will go some way to acknowledging his unprecedented contribution to society and science,” he told the Associated Press. “But more importantly I hope it will serve as a stark and rightfully painful reminder of what we lost in Turing, and what we risk when we allow that kind of hateful ideology to win.”

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