Alan Turing, head of the Enigma code-breaking team at Bletchley Park in World War 2, mathematician and father of computer science who was driven to suicide over the treatment of his sexuality is finally being honoured by the featuring his image on the new £50 note.
Chosen By Committee
The UK Bank of England’s Banknote Character Advisory Committee advises the Governor on the characters that appear on new banknotes. In December, members of the committee were given summary biographies of 989 dead scientists, put forward by more than 225,000 members of the public, from which one would need to be chosen to feature on the new polymer £50 note when it enters circulation at the end of 2021. The committee chose Alan Turing.
Mathematician & Scientist
Alan Turing 1912 – 1954, born in born in West London and educated in Frant, East Sussex and Sherborne, Dorset, displayed a natural ability for maths and science. He is reported to have been able to solve complex and advanced maths problems in 1927 (aged 15) without having studied even elementary calculus, and in 1928 (aged 16) he was able to deduce Einstein’s questioning of Newton’s laws of motion from a text in which this was never made explicit.
Father of Computer Science
After studying at King’s College Cambridge, in 1936 Turing published his paper “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem”, with which Turing proved that his “universal computing machine” could perform any mathematical computation if it were representable as an algorithm. This, plus his work developed at Bletchley Park is why Turing is widely thought of as the father of modern computer science.
WW2 Bletchley Hero
Alan Turing is perhaps best known for heading the codebreaking operation during WW2 at top-secret Bletchley Park, where it is estimated that the incredible breaking of U-boat Enigma codes may have shortened the war in Europe by as many as two to four years, and potentially saved millions of lives. Part of this work involved creating and building the electromechanical machine called the bombe, which could break Enigma more effectively than the Polish bomba kryptologiczna (from where it got its name).
Conviction, Chemical Castration and Suicide
In 1952, Turing was prosecuted and convicted of “gross indecency” over his relationship with another man. In order to avoid a prison sentence, Turing chose to be chemically castrated through injections of synthetic oestrogen.
Alan Turing committed suicide with cyanide poisoning two years later, aged only 41.
Apology and Pardon
In 2013, Alan Turing was given a posthumous apology and royal pardon for his conviction for gross indecency.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Alan Turing’s incredible mind, aptitude for maths and science, and his work in cracking the Enigma code at Bletchley Park have resulted in millions of lives being saved through the shortening of the war in Europe, and in the rapid evolution of computer science that has fed directly into the digital world and workplace that we know today. Despite being a national hero, how Turing was treated was widely regarded as shameful, and the posthumous pardon and apology, along with being honoured on a banknote have been ways in which the UK has been able, in some small but public ways, to right some the wrongs of the past, honour a truly great scientist, and contribute to a greater understanding and acceptance of sexual differences.