Ahead of His Time

Author:Melinda Weir
Position:MELINDA WEIR is on the staff of Finance & Development.
64 FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT | December 2019
July, Bank of England Governor
Mark Carney strode onto the sta ge at the Science
and Industry Museum i n Manchester to reveal the
next face of the United Kingdom’s £50 note, one
that the bank had e armarked for science.
e honor, he announced, would go to Alan
Turing (1912–54)—mathematician, World War
II code breaker, and father of computer science.
Turing was a visionary as well a s a revolutionary,
in Carney’s words, and an outstand ing mathema-
tician whose work has had a considerable impact
on how we live today.
Turing’s seminal 1936 paper “On Computable
Numbers” imagined the very c oncept of modern
computing. His code-breakin g machine is credited
with shortening World War II. And his revolutionary
postwar work helped create the world’s rst com-
mercial computer s and art iculated philosophical
and logical foundations for ar ticial intelligence.
He was, Carney said, “a gia nt on whose shoulders
so many now stand.”
Imagining the computer
Celebrated in books and cinema—the 2014 movie
he Imitation Game was based on his biography—
Turing is best known by the British public for
his wartime eorts, Sarah John, the Bank of
England’s chief cashier, told F&D. With his
colleag ues at Bletch ley Park, t he government’s
top-secret codebreaki ng center, Turin g developed
the code-breakin g Bombe machine and made other
advances in decr yption, which, building on work
from Polish mathematicians, led to crack ing the
German Enigma code. His team’s work is widely
credited with expediting t he war’s end, saving
millions of lives.
But it is Turing’s inuence as a profound and
inventive thinker of the modern digita l age that
the new £50 is celebrating, accordin g to John.
“If you think about where that idea has taken
us between 1936 and today,” said John, referring
to Turing’s groundbreaking paper that year, which
proposed a computing machine, “and how much
computers inuence our daily lives —we use them
at work, at home, in hospitals, most of us have
got a small computer in our pockets t hat we use
on a day-to-day basis—th at legacy of starting the
computer revolution is really what we’re trying to
celebrate on this bank note.”
Turing was se lected for the £50 after a months-
long “ink Science” ca mpaign by the Ba nk of
England, which elicited nea rly a quarter-million
nominations from the public, later whittled
down by a committee of scientists and centra l
bank ocials.
e short list included chemist Rosa lind
Franklin, instrumental in discovering the
structure of DNA; theoret ical physicist Stephen
Hawking; and Srin ivasa Ramanujan, who trans-
formed modern mathematics.
Posthumous apology
Turing also left another legacy. Turing was a gay
man during a time when Victorian-er a antigay
laws were in place. He was arreste d and convicted
Ahead of His Time
Mathematician and computer science pioneer Alan Turing
will appear on UK currency
Melinda Weir
A close-up of a rebuilt Bombe device, an electromechanical codebreaking machine used by British cryptologists in
World War II. Turing was instrumental in the development of the machine, adapted from a Polish design.

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