Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Alan Turing: New Face Of The Bank Of England L50 Note

Environmental & Science Education
History of Science
Edward Hessler

This is only a foretaste of what is to come and only the shadow of what is going to be.--Alan Turing, The Times, 1949)

Alan Turing (1912 - 1954) is probably remembered most for his code-breaking work during WWII.  Germany had developed Enigma, a machine for sending coded messages to its military--army, navy, and airforce. In particular, the decryption of the Enigma code was crucial in protecting ships loaded with materials sailing from the United States to Britain. In the end, the result was the saving of millions of lives.

Turing also made significant contributions to the development of computers, computer science (contributions to the algorithm concept), and to artificial intelligence (the Turing test or how to tell whether a computing machine is intelligent).

In 1952, Turing was convicted for "gross indecency following which he was chemically castrated." He died two years later from cyanide poisoning (The official inquest determined that it was suicide but there are arguments that it could have been accidental.) It wasn't until 2013, nearly 70 years following his death) that he was given a royal pardon.

Turing's face will be on the new Bank of England's 50 pound polymer note, to be in general circulation by the end of 2021. In addition to his photograph, this new note will include technical drawings of the Bombe (the British decryption device), a table and mathematical formulas from an important paper he wrote (1936) on the nature of computable numbers, the quote in the epigraph above, some zeros and ones, and Turing's signature.  It is a very handsome bill.

The link includes more information, e.g., the other candidates considered for the note, a short video featuring Bank of England governor Mark Carney on Turing's contributions, an analysis of Turing's work, a link to a BBC essay written on the occasion of Turing's 100th birthday (2012), and comments on other Bank of England notes.

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