Quantum tech will catalyse India’s software, hardware potential

Quantum tech will catalyse India’s software, hardware potential

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing civil servants on Civil Services Day. (Credit: Twitter/BJP4India)

Corpus of Rs 6,003 crore for India’s Quantum Mission brings it in the league of nations researching the cutting-edge technology

New Delhi: India has announced an ambitious plan to invest in the development of quantum technology-based software and hardware. Going forward the objective is to sell it to developing countries.

On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet approved the National Quantum Mission (NQM) at an estimated cost of Rs 6,003 crore over the next eight years.

Much faster than classical computing, quantum technology is being talked of as a game-changer that can transform lives sooner than one can imagine. At present, a handful of countries — including the US, China, Canada, France, Austria, and Finland — are researching quantum tech.

“The NQM will enable India to make a quantum leap in the field,” said Dr Jitendra Singh, Minister of State for Science and Technology.

Unlike classical computing, in which information is processed using bits (0 or 1), quantum computing processes information using quantum bits, or ‘qubits’, which exist in a state of superposition. It means that they have the ability to represent both 0 and 1 at the same time, enabling quantum computers to mimic several classical computers in parallel.

“Remember the Y2K challenge? India always targeted software and lost the game in hardware, which is a larger industry. This is the first time that we jump into hardware simultaneously. All our investments would go into both hardware and software,” said Srivari Chandrasekhar, Secretary, Department of Science & Technology (DST).

The ‘Y2K problem’ was a peculiar bug encountered at the turn of the century, because of the pre-2000 computers’ inability to differentiate between the years 1900 and 2000 as they could only use two digits to denote the year. This ultimately led to an unprecedented boom in India’s IT industry on the back of the country’s engineering talent that helped fix the issue.

“Knowing that power of India, software is a baayen haath ka khel (an easy given). So, we would be able to do that exceedingly well. But we’ll make sure to match the global standards so that we are able to sell hardware as well,” Chandrasekhar added.

India’s target is to develop quantum computers with 20-50 qubits within three years, 50-100 qubits in the next five years, and 50-1,000 qubits in the next eight years. Some private companies across the world are much ahead of us.

“IBM has already close to 250-qubit machine and they are renting it out. IIT Madras has already bought time on it and they are developing the algorithm. IBM has 440 qubits in the next few months. And by the next year, they have declared that 1,000 qubits would be (available) in the market, as in, time will be available,” said Ajay Sood, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India.

India’s vision of 1,000 qubits will unfold slowly, realistically speaking. But India can get time on the quantum computers available on the cloud.

“If you get the algorithm, you can start today, which is exactly what few researchers have already done on the IBM machine,” Sood added.

The applications for quantum tech would be numerous. Better weather predictions, better medical instrumentation, secure strategic communication, cryptography, and imaging are among its many uses.

For instance, today’s supercomputers will need at least 1,000 years for carrying out genome mapping of 140 crore Indians.

“But with quantum tech, it can be mapped in a fraction of that time and predict what diseases are prevalent,” he said.

Weather prediction is done using 6-8 or even 12 parameters fed to the computer models. The current software is slow and can’t take more than these. With quantum technology, a higher number of parameters can run in real-time to give super-precise forecasts.

Acing this cutting-edge technology, however, will not be free from challenges.

This hardware is not like the small computers used in offices. It needs super-critical temperatures, so keeping the computers chilled would be a major practical problem. Besides, the movement of photos in this case is so sensitive that even 1 decibel of noise can disturb the entire process.

“Helium-3 needed for cooling is a cryogenic gas and we will need to get it from outside,” said Dr Akhilesh Gupta, Senior Adviser at the Department of Science and Technology.


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