Turing to be new face of the tenner?

An e-petition has been launched to make the father of modern computer science, Alan Turing, the new face of the £10 note.

Mat Greenfield Matthew Greenfield
3 min read

An e-petition has been launched to put mathematician, cryptographer and the chap many consider to be the father of modern computer science, Alan Turing, on the £10 note when the time comes for its Series F redesign.

British banknotes undergo periodical makeovers, and if the petition is successful, Turing will follow a host of national heroes including Florence Nightingale, Dickens and Darwin to become the latest face of the tenner. The campaign, which was started by Thomas Thurman, a poet who has previously penned an ode to Turing, has, at time of writing gained over 8,000 signatures.

“Alan Turing is a national hero," Thurman writes on the petition's website. "His contribution to computer science, and hence to the life of the nation and the world, is incalculable. The ripple-effect of his theories on modern life continues to grow, and may never stop.”

During the Second World War, Turing’s work in cryptanalysis -- deciphering secret messages that is, not examining burial vaults -- helped him to crack the Enigma code that the German armed forces used to relay encrypted messages between one another. Much of his work still pervades modern computing to this day.

His influential paper in 1950, 'Computing Machinery and Intelligence', set out the essential concept in the philosophy of artificial intelligence, which developed into the ‘Turing Test’ -- an experiment to test a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour. Turing's argument was that a machine that could fool a user into thinking they’re interacting with a human, can be reasonably said to 'think'.

Despite being convicted on charges of homosexuality at a time when it was illegal in Britain, Turing managed to escape imprisonment, choosing instead a barbaric form of chemical castration, as outlined in this week's superb episode of Radiolab. Sadly he was stripped of his security clearance, meaning he was not allowed to continue his government cryptography work.

Turing died in 1954 of apparent suicide from cyanide ingestion, thought to have been administered with an apple. It is erroneously stated that the name and logo of Apple Inc were chosen in deference to Turing, though Steve Jobs denied this, saying: "It isn't true, but God, we wish it were."

Turing's name has featured on similar petitions before. One such campaign in 2009 resulted in a government apology being issued posthumously to Turing by Gordon Brown for the “appalling” way he was treated after the War. Last month, another petition with over 23,000 signatories asking for Turing to be given an official posthumous pardon was rejected by the government, which stated that he “was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence.”

If you think Turing deserves top billing on our tenners then you've got just less than a year to head over and sign the e-petition.

Is this legendary computer science wizard the best choice, or is there another famous face you'd like to see plastered on our bank notes? Let me know what you think in the comments below or over on our Facebook page.

Image credit: ell brown