Father of modern computing becomes the new face of UK’s 50-pound note: Facts on Alan Turing

  • Miles
  • July 16, 2019
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British mathematician and World War II codebreaker, Alan Turing, will feature on UK's 50-pound note

British mathematician and World War II codebreaker, Alan Turing, will feature on UK’s 50-pound note. (Image: Bank of England)

British mathematician and World War II codebreaker, Alan Turing, who was chemically castrated for being gay after being convicted under Victorian-era homophobic laws, will feature on UK’s new PS50 note, according to Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.

“As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far-ranging and path-breaking,” CNN quoted Carney as saying.

The mathematician will appear on the note by the end of 2021.

Note’s design to reflect Turing’s work

The note’s design will reflect Turing’s work and feature a ticker tape of binary numbers which translates to his birthday, i.e. June 23, 1912. It will also depict the ‘British Bombe’ machine which helped crack the Enigma code.

It will also feature one of his quotes — “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”

He was chosen as the face of the banknote from a pool of candidates which included theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and mathematician Ada Lovelace along with Rosalind Franklin, James Clerk Maxwell, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Ernest Rutherford.

Alan Turing’s contributions

1. Alan Turing is touted to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. He worked towards cracking Germany’s Enigma code at Bletchley Park, saving thousands of lives during World War II by hastening the end of the war due to his codebreaking efforts.

The Enigma was an enciphering machine used by the German armed forces to send messages securely. Together with fellow code-breaker Gordon Welchman, Turing developed the Bombe, a machine based on an earlier Polish design, which from the late 1940s decoded all messages sent by the Enigma machines.

2. A paper published by the mathematician in 1937 introduced the ‘Turing machine,’ which forms the basis of modern computing. He also studied cryptology, the study of codes and cyphers which can be used to send secret messages, and built three out of four stages of an electro-mechanical binary multiplier.

3. Next, in 1941, Turing with his team at Bletchley, succeeded in decrypting German naval signals, contributing to Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.

4. In July 1942, Turing developed a complex code-breaking technique ‘Turingery’ for use against the Lorenz cipher messages produced by the Germans’ new Geheimschreiber (secret writer) machine.

5. Turing first addressed the issue of artificial intelligence (AI) in his famous paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950). In it, he devised what he called the ‘Imitation Game’ (now called the ‘Turing Test’) – a method to determine whether a machine showing behaviour can truly be called ‘intelligent.’ The test has significantly influenced research on AI.

Turing’s death

Turing killed himself on June 7, 1954 — about two years after being subjected to chemical castration — by consuming cyanide. In 2009, Gordon Brown, former British PM, made an official posthumous apology for Turing’s treatment and Turing received a royal pardon for the conviction in December 2013.

In 2017, the ‘Alan Turing Law,’ was passed that posthumously pardoned men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.

He was also the subject of the 2014 film, ‘The Imitation Game.’ In 2015 a new national centre for research in data science and AI, The Alan Turing Institute, was created in his name.