The Bank of England has unveiled its new £50 notes, which had been earmarked to honour a distinguished British scientist, and which will feature Alan Turing, the WWII hero who discovered many of the foundational insights to both modern computing and cryptography, and whose work with the codebreakers of Bletchley Park are widely believed to have shortened WWII by many years and saved millions of lives.
Turing was gay, and when the police discovered this fact, he was sentenced to a regime of cruel pseudoscientific torture in the form of forced hormone injections; while undergoing this torture, he committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple.
Turing was pardoned for his "crime" of sodomy in 2013, but the official pardon only inflamed public sentiment over the injustice of 50,000 other gay British men bearing criminal records for "sodomy." In 2016, all sodomy convictions for dead Britons were automatically pardoned; living gay men could apply to have their records expunged (a proposal to make this an automatic process died after David Cameron's Conservative government sabotaged a private member's bill).
The new notes will circulate as of 2021. The shortlist for suitable scientist to celebrate with the note was drawn from a public process that attracted 227,299 nominations for a total of 989 honorees. Bank governor Mark Carney made the final determination.
Ironically, the move comes as the British government is seeking to prohibit the most consequential elements of Turing's work from being used by the public: they have repeatedly proposed bans on both working general purpose computers and working cryptography, and have repeatedly mooted orders that would ban manufacturers from creating computers capable of encrypting data in ways that British government spies and police services can't break.
As Andrew Kohan points out, banning crypto while celebrating Turing is a fitting tribute to his life, where his war heroism was rewarded with torture, torment and death.
The shortlisted characters, or pairs of characters, 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, Frederick Sanger, and Alan Turing.
Sarah John, the Bank’s chief cashier, said: “The strength of the shortlist is testament to the UK’s incredible scientific contribution. The breadth of individuals and achievements reflects the huge range of nominations we received for this note and I would to thank the public for all their suggestions of scientists we could celebrate.”
Alan Turing to feature on new £50 note [Larry Elliott/The Guardian]