Bank of England Unveils 50-Pound Note Featuring Alan Turing


The Bank of England unveiled the design of its new 50-pound ($69) banknote honoring World War II code breaker Alan Turing, completing what it called its “most secure” set of notes yet.

In a week when central bankers from around the globe debate the latest developments in digital payments and cryptocurrencies, the cash features a quote from computing pioneer Turing: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”

Rollout of the notes starting on June 23 will finish the central bank’s switch to currency printed on polymer instead of paper. The 50 is the highest-value U.K. banknote in circulation and is rarely used for routine purchases, favored instead as a store of value. A 2013 survey found that almost a third of people had never used one, but its circulation is expected to increase in coming years as inflation erodes the value of the pound.

Bank of England Unveils 50-Pound Note Featuring Alan Turing

Though the value of notes in circulation has risen as people are holding more as a response to uncertainty, usage of cash overall in the U.K. has fallen during the coronavirus pandemic. More consumers opt for card payments, shopping online and contactless forms including those that work with a mobile phone. The BOE is actively working on digital currencies, even as it prepares to roll out its newest cash, Bailey said in a pooled interview.

“While we’re still maintaining our cash in circulation, our banknotes, we’re also working on digital currency,” he said. “The next thing in this broad area will be further examining what role it could play, to really evaluate its appropriateness and potential.”

The banknote will incorporate two windows and a two-color foil, making it difficult to counterfeit, the BOE said. It also features a hologram image that changes between the words ‘Fifty’ and ‘Pounds’ when tilting the note from side to side. A tactile feature will help the visually impaired identify it.

It depicts images related to Turing, a mathematician and the father of artificial intelligence, including technical drawings of his Enigma code-breaking machine and his birth date in binary code. Turing helped develop the first computers, and his work on the question of whether machines can think laid the foundations for AI.

“This is one of our most secure banknotes yet,” sad the BOE’s Chief Cashier Sarah John. “We’ve got a very complex foil feature on this note, which has both a hologram and a holographic microchip as a nod to Turing’s work on computers, and that will make it very difficult to counterfeit.”

Turing was selected following public nominations and a campaign for more diversity on the U.K. currency. Turing was convicted for gross indecency for his relationship with a man in 1952 and pardoned posthumously in 2013. He took his own life at age 41 as a result of the events surrounding his arrest.

“As the artist Anthony Gormley remarked, Alan Turing ‘unlocked the door between the industrial and the information age,’” Bailey said. “Alan Turing was a gay man, whose transformational work in the fields of computer science, codebreaking and developmental biology, was still not enough to spare him the appalling treatment. By placing him on this new 50 pound banknote, we celebrate him for his achievements.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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