In this tripartite series, I shall:
- introduce National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications (NM-QTA);
- provide an overview of international quantum technology space; and
- offer comments on NM-QTA.
Introducing National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications (NM-QTA)
What is quantum computing?
Quantum computing, unlike classical computing, emulates the law of nature i.e. bases itself on the behaviour of subatomic particles (law of quantum mechanics). Subatomic particles have both wave and particle nature representing a spectrum of uncertainty. Similarly, quantum computing bases itself on a spectrum of uncertainty.
Classical computing uses ‘binary digits’ (bits) for processing information. A bit can be 0 or 1 (not both). There can only be four combination possibilities – 00, 01, 11 and 10. Quantum computing, on the other hand, uses quantum bits. It can be 0 or 1 or both (the state of 0 and 1 at the same time is called superposition). This spectrum (0 – 1) allows it to have infinite possibilities and superior computing power. Quantum computing can, therefore, exponentially process a lot more information vis-a-vis classical computing. For the purpose of understanding, while a classical computer will search for an item in a directory on an entry-by-entry basis, a quantum computer can search for the same item simultaneously across pages.
Quantum computing can be advantageous vis-à-vis classical computers only when it comes to complex calculations. In case of simple tasks such as watching a video or browsing internet, it may not offer any real advantage. Further, quantum computing is not a highly advanced version of classical computing. On the other hand, it is based on an altogether different technology (just as how a ‘candle’ differs from a ‘light bulb’).
Quantum computing is yet to reach the stage of commercialisation and is expected to be a technology disruptor. Countries which get to win (or acquire dominant position) in the quantum race will get to dictate the terms of quantum space and place themselves at the top of the technology value chain. This is not a new phenomenon. Consider the tech industry in Silicon Valley or automobile sector in Germany. These industries placed these countries at the top of the technology value chain and the rest is history.
Quantum technology has diverse applications – ranging from faster drug discovery (since quantum computing emulates the behaviour of subatomic particles, it can generate faster and more accurate projections with regard to behaviour of molecules) to securing financial transactions (it is impossible to copy a private key generated through quantum computing owing to its inherent uncertainty).
We have to situate the quantum computing in the context of the fourth industrial revolution- a revolution that entails fusion of many a technology like artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, quantum computing and internet of things. Digitisation, digitalisation and digital transformation are the cornerstones of the fourth industrial revolution.
- Digitisation refers to converting analogue data to binary data so that computers can store, process and transfer the data. For example, converting a typewritten-text to a digital form is digitisation.
- Digitalisation can be defined at various levels. Interactions through email and social media denote digitalisation of interactions. Automation is another example of digitalisation. Both digitisation and digitalisation are about technology. While digitisation is about information or data, digitalisation is about the processes.
- Digital transformation denotes cross-cutting organisational changes at a large scale. It entails many a digitalisation projects. Quantum computing falls in this bracket.
National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications (NM-QTA)
On 19 April 2023, the Union Cabinet sanctioned 6000 croress for the time period 2023-24 to 2030-31. In 2019, the Department of Science, Government of India, set up the Quantum Enabled Science and Technology (QuEST) for capacity mapping. The Union Budget 2020 – 21 proposed to spend 8000 crores on the National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications (NM-QTA) for a period of five years.
The objectives are to:
- nurture and scale up quantum research (including through international collaboration);
- create a vibrant and innovative Quantum Technology ecosystem;
- accelerate quantum led economic growth; and
- make India one of the leading nations in the development of Quantum Technologies & Applications (QTA) (commercialisation of QTA).
Four thematic hubs (T-Hubs) on the given below domains will be set up in top academic and national R&D institutes:
- Quantum Computing;
- Quantum Communication;
- Quantum Sensing and Metrology; and
- Quantum Materials and Devices.