India’s race to quantum supremacy
Science & Technology
13th Dec, 2021
Quantum computing is going to be the next great leap in technology, with the ability to solve problems beyond the reach of today’s computers. Thus, it’s important to analyze India’s progress towards the new technology and address various gaps present.
- In September this year, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) launched the ‘Quantum Computer Simulator (QSim) Toolkit’to provide the first quantum development environment to academicians, industry professionals, students, and the scientific community in India.
- This is an outcome of the budgetary outlay of INR 8,000 croresto bolster quantum technology development and uptake in the country.
What is Quantum technology?
- Quantum technology is a class of technology that works by using the principles of quantum mechanics (the physics of sub-atomic particles), including quantum entanglement and quantum superposition.
- Example- Smartphone is a type of quantum technology – its semiconductors use quantum physics to work.
What is Qubit?
- · A qubit (or quantum bit) is the quantum mechanical analogue of a classical bit.
- · In classical computing the information is encoded in bits, where each bit can have the value zero or one.
- · In quantum computing the information is encoded in qubits.
The global quantum supremacy race (the current status)
- At present, quantum technology is in its nascent stage and will take a few years before it can be practically implemented.
- It is likely to have a value addition of US $5 billion to US $10 billion in the next three to five years. This figure is expected to reach US $450 billion in the next fifteen years.
- Given the scope and potential of this technology, governments, technology firms, and academia have been investing resources into achieving quantum supremacy or quantum advantage.
- In June 2021, researchers in Chinaclaimed this landmark achievement.
- In October 2019, Googlemarked this accomplishment.
- India, Canada, Germany, and France have committed more than a billion dollars each towards its development.
India formally joined the race to quantum computing by establishing the National Mission for Quantum Technology and Applications (NM-QTA) in 2020.
How Quantum technology can be a good ‘solution’?
- Effective functioning: In modern day computing, information is relayed and stored in binary digits or bits, that is, 0 or 1. In quantum computing, information sharing, and storage is done in qubits, which exist as 0 or 1 or a combination of both.
- This allows for a quantum computer to perform a multitude of applications at the same time, at a much faster rate, surpassing the processing ability of a conventional computing system.
- Increased processing capabilities: Quantum computers will exponentially increase the processing capabilities of a modern-day computer and address impediments linked to combinatorics.
- Multiple benefits: Near-term and long-term quantum applications will:
- augment AI solutions
- improve financial forecasting
- drastically reduce failures in the manufacturing sector
- accentuate drug development
- push for better cybersecurity paradigms
What are the potential threats?
- Threat to cyber infrastructure: Quantum technology can put the present-day encryption at risk, which can pose a threat to a country’s critical cyber infrastructure, thereby, putting its national security at stake.
- Information leak: Confidential military and strategic information can be decrypted easily once quantum computers and their applications become a reality.
What are the present gaps in India’s approach?
- Loosely built quantum ecosystem: While India has given a billion-dollar push to quantum computing, a comprehensive multi-stakeholder network is amiss. It is not clear whether India will focus on near-term quantum applications or long-term applications or both.
- Next, metrics to assess the outcomes of India’s quantum efforts are not clearly defined. Merely achieving quantum supremacy will not necessarily safeguard India’s national interests.
- India has a small talent pool in the realm of quantum computing when it comes to capacity and skilled professionals.
What measures are required in India?
- Renewed policies and governance: Considering potential risks of the technology, India needs to ramp up its efforts to match pace the US and China, both of which have achieved quantum supremacy.
- Proper financing: As countries increase their financial and intellectual resources towards quantum tech, India must ensure it does not lag far behind.
- Powerful setup: India will also need to increase its compute power and work towards developing more complex semiconductor chips to realise its quantum potential.
- Strength in hardware manufacturing: For developing a quantum computer at home, India will need superconducting materials, physical qubits, a data plane, chips, processors, and fabrication labs.
- Technology exporter:For India to move from being an importer of quantum technology to an exporter, it needs to revisit and rework its technology policy objectives, frameworks, and deliverables.
Heavy importer of technology
In 2020, India imported hardware and software amounting to US $10.4 billion, while the tech exports were a mere US $0.3 billion.
- Research & development: Translating research into real-world applications should be at the core of India’s quantum efforts.
Currently there are various loopholes and policy gaps in India. With the persistent challenges, India is far behind to match pace with China and the US. Thus, India needs to identify the present challenges and work towards them. These will not only make India a competent contender in the global quantum race but also usher a new paradigm of technology policymaking in the country.