WWII code cracker Alan Turing becomes the first gay on a British banknote

WWII code cracker Alan Turing becomes the first gay on a British banknote

On Wednesday, the Bank of England began circulating its new £ 50 banknotes featuring WWII code breaker Alan Turing believed to have been the 109th birthday of the pioneering math genius.

Often referred to as the “Father of Computing and Artificial Intelligence,” Turing was hailed as a war hero and honored by King George VI at the end of the war for helping defeat the Nazis. Despite this, however, he died as a disgraced “criminal” – simply because he was gay.

“I am delighted that Alan Turing is featured on our new £ 50 note. He was a brilliant scientist whose thought still shapes our lives today, ”Bank of England chief cashier Sarah John told NBC News. “However, his many contributions to society were still not enough to spare him the appalling treatment he was subjected to simply because he was gay. By putting him on this new £ 50, we are celebrating his life and his accomplishments. , of which we should all be very proud. ”

Born in London on June 23, 1912, Turing graduated from Cambridge University in 1934. At the start of World War II, he joined the British government’s war operation, designing a deciphering machine known as the ” Bomb”. Bombe then provided Allied forces with significant military intelligence, processing, at its peak, 89,000 coded messages per day.

Former operator Jean Valentine, 82, with a restored and fully functional Turing bomb when unveiled in Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire on September 6, 2006.Rui Vieira / PA Images via Getty Images file

At the end of the war, Turing was made the Most Excellent Officer of the Order in the British Empire, an honor bestowed by the royal family on the privileged few for their contributions to science, the arts and public service.

In the years that followed, Turing continued to work as a computer scientist. His conception of the Automatic Computing Engine, or ACE, would have been the first and most advanced computer of its time. But his colleagues at the National Physical Laboratory were concerned that the engineering was too complex and decided to build a much smaller pilot ACE instead. Their competitors from the University of Manchester consequently won the race and Turing, discouraged, had joined their forces as deputy director. Turing also wrote the first programming manual.

“What we really don’t realize is how this moment and Turing’s vision changed the whole world. Before that, literally no one in the world had imagined that a single machine could apply countless strings of symbols. Now we know them as programs, ”according to David Leslie of the Alan Turing Institute.

But being an outstanding computer scientist and war hero didn’t spare Turing what some have called a “witch hunt” for gay and bisexual men in the UK, which led to the imprisonment of thousands of people. gay men and people suspected of being gay. throughout the 1950s.

In January 1952, Turing was prosecuted for indecency over his relationship with another man in Manchester. Although he was called a “national good” during this trial by character witness Hugh Alexander, head of cryptanalysis at government communications headquarters, Turing was persecuted.

On Wednesday, the Bank of England began circulating its new £ 50 banknotes featuring WWII code breaker Alan Turing.bank of england

In March of that year, Turing pleaded guilty and, to avoid jail time, had to agree to be chemically castrated while taking hormone therapy designed to suppress his libido.

His criminal record prevented him from working for a government intelligence agency. Disgraced and deprived of his rights, he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning on June 8, 1954, in his home in Manchester. He was 41 years old.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK more than a decade later on June 14, 1967.

Despite his tragic end, Turing’s legacy as a war hero and father of computing has survived, and the British government has attempted to right its past wrongs. In 2009, more than half a century after Turing’s death, then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking on behalf of the government, publicly apologized for Turing’s “totally unfair” treatment. . In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a royal pardon.

Staging it on a £ 50 bank note marks another milestone. It is the first time that a homosexual has appeared on a British banknote. He has been greeted by part of the LGBTQ community as a symbol of the country facing its dark past of horrific persecution of gay men.

This visionary pioneer of computing and artificial intelligence, once criminalized and dishonored, is now widely celebrated. In Turing’s own words from 1949: “This is only a taste of what is to come, and only a shadow of what is to be.”

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