One of the major highlights of the Union Budget 2020 was the announcement of the National Mission on Quantum Technologies & Applications (NM-QTA). A total budget outlay of Rs. 8,000 crore over the next 5 years has been allocated for NM-QTA that will be implemented by the Department of Science & Technology (DST).
Quantum computers are considered to be much more powerful when compared to traditional digital machines that exist today. While traditional computers rely on bits that can either hold the value ‘0’ or ‘1’, quantum computers rely on quantum bits (or qubits) that can exist in multiple state at once.
As quantum computers use probabilistic algorithms, they might not provide an exact answer but an answer that is within a certain probability. Business verticals involving risk management, financial planning, profit and wealth maximisation, and others are dependent on probabilities, which makes them suitable for quantum computers.
Technology giants like IBM and Google are already working on the development of their line of Quantum computing systems. Quantum computing could disrupt industries spanning from telecommunications and cyber-security to medicine. As quantum computers use quantum mechanics, it can process large and complex data-sets with more efficiency than classical computers.
Although the USA and China are leading the global race in quantum technology, the Indian government has augmented its efforts in this field for the last two years. The technology could propel India to the forefront of hack-proof communication in sectors such as banking, defence, and national and homeland security. The announcement of NM-QTA coupled with a budget allocation of Rs. 8,000 crore is a much-needed step to put India on the world’s Quantum map.
Apart from initiatives by the government, there is a need for increased participation by India’s private sector and the investor community. The Indian quantum eco-system also needs to mature as only a few hundred Indian researchers are working in this domain in an asymmetric way.
A robust hardware and manufacturing technology infrastructure could boost the progress in research related to quantum technology as it becomes easy to convert theoretical ideas into real products. Co-ordinated and frequent communication between different quantum communities could also help in cementing India’s position in the Years to Quantum (Y2Q) race, as the Y2K crisis helped the Indian IT companies mark its place.
Quantum computers and computing, quantum communication, quantum key distribution, encryption, crypt analysis, quantum devices, quantum sensing, quantum materials, and quantum clock are some of the next generation transformative technologies that will receive a major push under the NM-QTA mission. The mission will also provide a major thrust in the field of translational research, strengthen the start-up ecosystem, and prepare the next-generation skilled manpower.
The range of quantum technologies will change the paradigm of communication, computation, and encryption, as quantum computing could easily break strong encryptions that safeguard our critical data sets. Apart from cyber-security and secure communications & financial transactions, quantum technologies will have a far-reaching impact on numerical weather prediction, aerospace engineering, advanced manufacturing, simulations, health, agriculture, and education to name a few.
It could also help in addressing specific national and regional issues. By promoting advanced research in quantum technology, engineering and technology disciplines, India can be brought at par with other advanced countries. The mission will also foster a culture of collaboration between prominent academic institutions across India as it provides a platform to work on inter-disciplinary research projects in key areas involving quantum technology.
India’s national quantum mission is an ideal step to bring different stakeholders in the quantum technology eco-system, namely academic researchers, investors, private sector executives, start-up companies, and government officials under one umbrella. The future of quantum is not how but when. Having an edge over it could bring multifarious benefits for the country. Apart from economic growth, it possesses the potential to facelift the socio-political landscape for any country.