In the Budget 2020 speech, Finance Minister made a welcome announcement for Indian science over the next five years, proposed spending Rs.8,000 crore (~ $1.2 billion) on a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications.
This promises to catapult India into the midst of the second quantum revolution, a major scientific effort that is being pursued by the United States, Europe, China and others.
About Quantum Computing:
- Quantum mechanics developed in the early 20th century. However, even after a century of its development, it still remains mysterious.
- A second revolution is underway in the quantum field by harnessing the power of quantum properties of matter. One of the most striking of these is the tremendous computing power of quantum computers, whose actual experimental realisation is one of the great challenges of our times.
- Quantum technologies are expected to be one of the major technology disruptions that will change the entire paradigm of computation, communication and encryption.
- Quantum technology is based on principles of quantum theory, which explains the nature of energy and matter on atomic and sub atomic level.
- Quantum computers store and process information using quantum two level systems (quantum bits or qubits) which unlike classical bits, can be prepared in superposition states.
- Conventional computers process information in ‘bits’ or 1s and 0s, following classical physics under which our computers can process a ‘1’ or a ‘0’ at a time.
- Quantum computers compute in ‘qubits’ (or quantum bits). They exploit the properties of quantum mechanics, the science that governs how matter behaves on the atomic scale.
- In this scheme of things, processors can be a 1 and a 0 simultaneously, a state called quantum superposition.
- Because of quantum superposition, a quantum computer, if it works to plan, can mimic several classical computers working in parallel.
- This key ability makes quantum computers extremely powerful compared to conventional computers when solving certain kinds of problems like finding prime factors of large numbers and searching large databases.
- The prime factorization quantum algorithm has important implications for security as it can be used to break RSA encryption, a popular method for secure communication.
Where India stands: What are the constraints on Indian progress in this field?
Globally, research in this area is about two decades old, but in India, serious experimental work has been under way for only about five years, and in a handful of locations.
So far, we have been plagued by a lack of sufficient resources, high quality manpower, timeliness and flexibility.
The new announcement in the Budget would greatly help fix the resource problem but high quality manpower is in global demand.
In a fast-moving field like this, timeliness is everything delayed funding by even one year is an enormous hit.
Challenges Associated with Quantum Computing:
- The dark side of quantum computing is the disruptive effect that it can have on cryptographic encryption, which secures communications and computers.
- It might pose a challenge for the government also because if this technology goes into wrong hands, all the government’s official and confidential data will be at a risk of being hacked and misused.
- The challenge lies in harnessing the properties of quantum superposition in a highly controlled manner. The qubits tend to be very fragile and lose their “quantumness” if not controlled properly.
- Also, a careful choice of materials, design and engineering is required to get them to work.
- Warfare and conflict strategists will have new challenges to face. In such scenarios India’s current plans may have to be reworked to develop integrated war-theatre strategies factoring in quantum technologies.
- Challenges in Funds part: There are some limits that come from how the government must do business with public funds.
- Here, private funding, both via industry and philanthropy, can play an outsized role even with much smaller amounts.
- For example, unrestricted funds that can be used to attract and retain high quality manpower and to build international networks — all at short notice — can and will make an enormous difference to the success of this enterprise.
- This is the most effective way (as China and Singapore discovered) to catch up scientifically with the international community, while quickly creating a vibrant intellectual environment to help attract top researchers.
Steps required for India to take lead in Quantum technologies:
Both private funding and philanthropic funding should be attracted towards quantum computing. For example, Funds can be used to attract and retain high quality manpower and to build international networks.
Connections with Indian industry from the start would help quantum technologies to become commercially successful.
Investing manpower and retaining them as quality human resource is very mobile.
Participate in development of global standards and requirements for quantum computers.
It would be prudent to develop a regulatory framework for quantum computing before it becomes widely available.
It will be better to regulate it or define the limits of its legitimate use, nationally and internationally before the problem gets out of hand like nuclear technology.
Further, connections with Indian industry from the start would also help quantum technologies become commercialised successfully, allowing Indian industry to benefit from the quantum revolution.
We must encourage industrial houses and strategic philanthropists to take an interest and reach out to Indian institutions with an existing presence in this emerging field.