Bank of England to honor Alan Turing on £50 note

"It is almost impossible to put into words the difference that Alan Turing made to society."

Bank of England
  • The late British mathematician and theoretical computer scientist Alan Turing will appear on Britain's 50-pound note starting in 2021.
  • Turing is best known for helping to crack the Nazis' Enigma machine, a feat that's estimated to have cut World War II short by two years.
  • The British government, which chemically castrated Turing in 1952 for "homosexual acts," officially apologized to Turing in 2009.


The Bank of England has announced that Alan Turing — the late British codebreaker who helped end World War II — will be the new face of the 50-pound note starting in 2021.

"Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today," said Bank of England governor Mark Carney. "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."

As a mathematician, logician and early computer scientist, Turing helped crack the Nazis' Enigma machine while working at Britain's Bletchley Park as part of the Ultra intelligence outfit. The breakthrough is estimated to have cut the war short by two years. Turing is also often called the Father of Artificial Intelligence, and his Turing machine can be considered an early example of a general-purpose computer.

"His genius lay in a unique ability to link the philosophical and the abstract with the practical and the concrete," Carney said. "All around us his legacy continues to build."

But despite his contributions to society, British authorities, in 1952, prosecuted Turing, who was gay, for homosexual acts under a Victorian-era law commonly known as the Labouchere Amendment. Turing was forced to choose between prison or chemical castration by the injection of female hormones. He chose the latter. Two years later, Turing killed himself at the age of 41 by consuming cyanide.

"It is almost impossible to put into words the difference that Alan Turing made to society, but perhaps the most poignant example is that his work is estimated to have shortened the war by four years and saved up to 21 million lives," John Leech, a former Liberal Democrat MP for Manchester Withington, told The Guardian. "And yet the way he was treated afterwards remains a national embarrassment and an example of society at its absolute worst."

In 2009, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a national apology to Turing.

"Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was convicted, under homophobic laws, were treated terribly," Brown said. "Over the years, millions more lived in fear in conviction. I am proud that those days are gone and that in the past 12 years this Government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alan's status as one of Britain's most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality, and long overdue."

In 2014, Queen Elizabeth II officially pardoned Alan Turing, marking the nation's fourth royal pardon granted since World War II.

Turing wasn't the only British scientist considered for the 50-pound note. Among the shortlist of candidates, as The Guardian reports, were Mary Anning, Paul Dirac, Rosalind Franklin, William Herschel and Caroline Herschel, Dorothy Hodgkin, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, Stephen Hawking, James Clerk Maxwell, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Ernest Rutherford, and Frederick Sanger.

Campaigners and some British lawmakers had signed a 150,000-strong petition to honor a scientist of color on the 50-pound note, warning that selecting a white scientist risks sending a "damaging message that ethnic minorities are invisible." However, Carney said the Bank intended to celebrate "all aspects of diversity."

"We want to represent as best as possible all aspects of diversity within the country, from race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, disability and beyond," Carney told The Guardian. "What we have today is a celebration of one of the greatest mathematicians and scientists in the United Kingdom and not just this country's history but world history."

In the U.K., cashless transactions are becoming increasingly common, though Carney noted that paper notes will still be around "for a very long period of time." It's also worth noting that, while Turing might've appreciated being honored on fiat currency, his contributions undoubtedly helped pave the way for cryptocurrency.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Artist rendering of a supervolcano.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • The supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park could cause an "ultra-catastrophe," warns an extinction events writer.
  • The full eruption of the volcano last happened 640,000 years ago.
  • The blast could kill billions and make United States uninhabitable.
Keep reading Show less

Ashamed over my mental illness, I realized drawing might help me – and others – cope

Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.

Keep reading Show less

Sexual activity linked to higher cognitive function in older age

A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.

The results of this one-of-a-kind study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men.
Image by Lightspring on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
  • The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
  • The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…