Computing genius Alan Turing new face of £50 note

Alan Turing, famed mathematician, codebreaker and war hero, is to be the face of the new £50 note, the Bank of England has announced

The new polymer note, to be introduced by the end of 2021, will feature a photo of Turing from 1951, a table and formulae from his ground-breaking paper on computing published in 1936 and technical drawings for the British Bombe, a machine instrumental in breaking the German Enigma-cipher code in WWII.

The note will also feature a string of binary numbers which converted to digital reads ‘23061912’ – Turing’s birthdate is 23 June 1912. The concept of a machine fed by binary numbers was a feature of his 1936 paper.

Turing was chosen from a shortlist of 12 British scientists to feature on the £50 note. In making the final selection, BoE governor Mark Carney commented: ‘Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today. As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far ranging and path breaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.’

The decision to retain the £50 note as part of the overhaul of British currency was announced in October last year, but the decision was controversial as high-value notes are often used to facilitate illicit transactions such as drug deals and money laundering.

In 2016, the former group chief executive at Standard Chartered Bank Peter Sands recommended that governments stop producing high-value currency such as the €500 (£450) note, the $100 (£80) bill, the CHF1,000 (£800) note and the £50 note. Published by the Harvard Kennedy School where Sands is a research fellow, the paper argued that high-value notes are the preferred payment mechanism of those pursuing illicit activities, given the anonymity and lack of transaction record they offer, and the relative ease with which they can be transported and moved.

In May 2018 the Treasury held a public consultation on a proposal to scrap the £50 note. The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) highlighted that the Treasury view did not correspond with the experiences of many who frequently receive payments that include £50 notes, including taxi drivers and antique dealers. Responding to the announcement Phil Hall, AAT head of public affairs and public policy, said: 'AAT’s members views on this issue were clear. We are pleased that the government and Bank of England have listened to the arguments against scrapping the £50 note and welcome the imminent switch to polymer.’

The European Central Bank discontinued production of the €500 note this year, although it still produces the €200 and €100 note.

There are 344m £50 notes in circulation, the BoE says, making them only slightly less common than the £5 note of which there are 396m.

Tom Reeve | 16-07-2019

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