Who’s Going On Your Fifty?

You can tell a lot about a country, its history and its politics, by taking a look at its banknotes. Who features on them, or in the case of studiously engineered international compromises such as the Euro, who doesn’t feature on them. Residents of the UK  have over the years been treated to a succession of historical worthies on their cash, and when a new revision of a banknote is announced you can be certain that the choice of famous person to adorn it will be front page news. Today we have a new banknote on the way, and this time the selection is squarely in Hackaday’s sphere of interest because the public is being urged to nominate a scientist for the honour. The note in question is the £50, the one that nobody uses and plenty of shops won’t even accept, but still, it’s an important choice that will replace the incumbents on the present version, steam engine pioneers Matthew Boulton and James Watt.

So, given a blank £50, who would you put on it? Candidates must be British, not fictional, and also no longer alive. Names in the frame include Ada, Countess Lovelace, Stephen Hawking, and Alan Turing, though with such a wide field to choose from there are sure to be many more front-runners. You might, for example, wish to consider Rosalind Franklin, but you can forget Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, or Michael Faraday as they have all already featured on British banknotes.

Hackaday does not take sides in such endeavors, but it’s still an opportunity to back your most inspiring figure. As your scribe, it’s a tough one between Lovelace and Turing, though Turing probably wins by a short head. Who would you like to see on the next £50 note? The bank has produced a short promotional video which we’ve placed below the break.

102 thoughts on “Who’s Going On Your Fifty?

    1. +1
      Indeed, Turing’s contributions to advancing the state of art back then very much considered worthwhile and why not with a bit of a slap in the face of primitive aspects doubtless originating with facile religious fears never verified/policed by any supernatural being :P
      Fwiw: In Australia we have the $100 note not used that often though, with a serious suggestion it not ever be replaced or supported with more printing as in, allowed to gradually disappear since its most common usage seems to be in drug deals and criminal exchanges ie larger sums easily carried and mostly untraceable. So will that happen in UK in future since it seems cocaine consumption increasing ?

    2. Is that even needed in the UK these days? Is Homophobia a big problem there?

      I’d put it on a US note. Then when the rubes ask who he is tell them “that’s Alan Turing, he’s the reason you don’t speak German”. Let them pass that bit of information around for a while and wait to watch their heads explode when someone makes the mistake of informing them that he was English and gay.

  1. Dont care who they put on it really (tho I do like the idea of turing) I just wish you could actually spend the things without being made to feel like a criminal. £20 gets you next to nothing these days

    1. If I’m completely honest I can’t say I have ever really taken any notice of who is on any note, and doubt many people do. The only one I remember is the Britannia figure on the £5 note.

      1. Agreed the £50 was more accepted in the 80’s ironically then it all went peculiar with a few fraudulant 50s and it’s now really hard to even get hold of and most people wont accept it except under duress!
        Those who think that putting Turing on the front to scare some homophobes should consider the note is bright Pink, hard to get hold of generally hidden away and no one accepts it …..

    2. > £20 gets you next to nothing these days

      The hysteria about a £50 note is silly considering the euro zone has notes up to €500 which is literally someone’s monthly wage in Poland.

      I’ve personally held a €200 note and owned a €100 note, which I used to buy a jacket. The €100 note was a bit of a problem to spend, but a €50 note you’d use in a grocery store every day.

      1. It’s too funny.
        Tho you dont need the marker.
        Hand over a tenner, they test it and give you some change inc a fiver.
        Then ask to borrow their marker.

        You’ll get the why question.
        The answer is the obvious; because I need to check the money you are giving me is not counterfeit.

        For more giggles, when it’s costing £2.13 and you hand a fiver, give them another 20p after the till has already told them how much change to give.
        Should be a test for androids ala Blade Runner. Tho if the head explodes was probably (sub)human.

  2. Ah forgot to add/affirm well since I am also a UK citizen (and others), then sure I would vote for Alan Turing as a first, chromosomes aside – I prefer those with mitochondria ;-)
    Second preference the often ignored Paracelsus as he touched on the issue of delineating medicants/poisons by dose which likely applies to politics as well in terms of campaign speeches and “rallies” (geesh, I feel sorry for those in USA), relevant links with last one as a lead up to exploring AI type code inferring intent and determination of integrity as in whether to bother furthering dialectic on important tech/health/safety issues especially with facile anonymous nicks :D
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paracelsus
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_stance

    1. Can I ask in all sincerity why Ada Loveless even gets brought up in these types of conversations? I’m under the impression ( possibly incorrectly ) that she made no contribution what so ever to the modern computer world. That’s not to say that it isn’t an interesting story. But if Babbage and Loveless never existed our modern world wouldn’t be any different.

      Am I incorrect in this assertion? If not why are we constantly hearing about this women?

  3. It’s gotta be Stephen Hawking – not only was he very intelligent, but he was a very decent human being with a great sense of humour – or does decent human not count any more, judging by recent choice president of USA? … It would obviously be better if he was a women or gay. He’s my personal hero.

        1. You mean the story of a figure to entrap the emotionally meek from an infinite deity’s One only son who couldn’t communicate better than any average human of the times ;-) whilst humans since the creation of ocean going vessels and printing presses have been far better communicators than All claimed gods in All of history and Without exception.. nuff said about that :D

    1. Not sure.
      I mean in today’s world he’s got a good chance what with being disabled and all, but not being a womxn may well go against him.
      He was after all divorced twice and potentialy had an affair, thus an evil misogynist like yours truely.

      1. “…the public is being urged to nominate a scientist…”

        Neither is George Boole (mathematicians are not considered ‘scientists’–else G.H. Hardy ought to be up near the top), nor Ada Lovelace (programming a computer does not qualify one as a ‘scientist’).

        Winston Churchill knew more about science than most degreed scientists–

        On ‘Time’:
        “Time–just one damned thing after another.”
        On weaponry:
        “”Although personally I am quite content with existing explosives, I feel we must not stand in the path of improvement.”
        On the continuing “improvements” to software, and especially operating systems:
        “We must beware of needless innovation,‭ ‬especially when guided by‭
        logic.‭”‬

        …and Maxwell was Scottish; not British.

        1. Scottish IS British, just as English is British. With bank notes its complicated though. There are Scottish bank notes, which in theory are legal tender just like ‘normal’ Bank-of-England bank notes, but a lot of English shops won’t accept them. Its made worse by the fact that several Scottish banks issue bank notes (but Scotland has no independence in issuing them), so its difficult for English people to know if they are genuine or not. Northern Ireland also use Sterling currency, and also issue their own type of bank notes, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in England.

  4. What exactly did Ada contribute worthy of comparison to the others? Other than being a popular meme that is?
    Plenty of women with more significant contributions to the modern world that could be selected instead.

    1. “English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. She was the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, she is sometimes regarded as the first to recognise the full potential of a “computing machine” and the first computer programmer”

      If that’s not enough, consider the fact that she did this back when women were excluded from higher education and a scientific career was impossible.

      1. At the same time, others were doing incredible work on numerical methods and applying them to problems in calculus like orbits of comets and other intractable problems. She gets much-amplified credit because she used a mechanical device where others (if they needed calculations) used human computers. There are Brits who have made much much greater contributions in the same field.

      1. I still remember the time when wages were paid in cash and you had to carry them to the bank yourself, make a deposit slip and tell the cashier where you got the money from, and your monthly wage would fit in an envelope in large notes.

        That was in 2002.

  5. I’d nominate Sir Tim Berners-Lee but he’s not dead yet. But Lovelace and Turing would be an excellent choice and recognition of the huge impact of information technology on science and our daily lives.

  6. An American here so don’t listen to me but if I got to pick I’d put Isambard Kingdom Brunel on the fifty, smoking his cigar.
    I know he wasn’t a scientist but he accomplished so much. I’d like to thank hackaday for introducing me to him, after that I had to go to the library and get a book to read the complete story of his life. The guy was amazing.

    1. Long time Hackaday readers will know that IKB is my personal hero. I thought about mentioning him above, but as an engineer myself I couldn’t put him among mere scientists. :)

  7. At 53 the only time I’ve ever seen a 50pound note is in the last couple of years when I was asked to make our company’s fruit machines accept them. Thinking about Turing or Lovelace.

    1. LOL…They are so rare you actually get people gawping at you if you so much as show a glimpse of one. Probably just reacquaint them selves with it. I assume it’s just like when you go abroad any where and they give you notes that are like a worth a weeks work rather than stuff you can actually spend say in the taxi!

      1. Go to a pub in any of the nordic countries, wave a 50 euro (£44) note, and you can just about buy beers for your table.

        Seriously. Last time I went, even the beer in the supermarket cost me £3-4 for a pint can.

  8. How about Tommy Flowers? He designed and built what was probably the world’s first programmable electronic digital computer. It cracked the Lorenz cipher during WWII. Flowers always seems to get overlooked.

    1. Also high on the list should be Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and extremely hard-working scientist–some might even say ‘polymath’–for his famous saying (something to the effect of…),
      “…we share about ninety-eight percent of our chromosomes with the common banana–a characteristic which is more readily apparent in some of my colleagues than in others…”

      Oh, wait…he’s still alive.

  9. I nominate Senator Elizabeth Warren. I know the requirements said the person must be British. However, if Senator Warren can call herself Cherokee because her DNA test shows that she might possibly maybe have had a Native American ancestor 7 to 8 generations ago, I’m sure she could perhaps find a British ancestor somewhere in her lineage as well and declare herself British.

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