TThe rapid advances in information technologies since the second half of the 20th century have completely changed every aspect of our lives.There seems to be no limit to the capabilities of modern computers. But did you know that there are still several mathematical and computational tasks that not even the most powerful computers available today can handle? While they will become much faster in the future, such problems will remain beyond the reach of computers based on today’s classic technologies.
That’s where quantum computers can show the way forward, and with the launch of the National Quantum Mission two weeks ago, India is pursuing this in a big way.
But first, what is quantum computing and why do we need it today?
The ABC’s of Quantum Computing
Multiplying two prime numbers, A and B, to find the product C is a trivial task for any computer. But given C, the inverse problem of finding A and B is much more complicated. And this problem becomes impossible to solve once A and B get very large. The complexity of this issue forms the basis of how we protect sensitive data such as our credit card numbers from theft when used for online transactions. Another important example is related to quantum mechanics (QM), the branch of physics that studies nature at the microscopic scale of atoms and electrons.
With the help of a computer, we can easily solve QM equations for a hydrogen atom, which contains one proton and one electron, or a hydrogen molecule, which contains two hydrogen atoms. But if we go to a slightly more complex molecule, let’s say that of the medicine Aspirin, which has 9 carbon atoms, 8 hydrogen atoms and 4 oxygen atoms, the QM equations are impossible to solve even using the most powerful computer available today .
Can we ever solve such problems that clearly have significant implications for society as a whole? The answer is yes, but we need to change the rules and build computing machines that follow the strange and counterintuitive laws of QM to store and process information. Such a machine is called a quantum computer, where the fundamental unit of information is called a quantum bit or qubit.
Unlike the classical bits in conventional digital computers which can take on the values 0 or 1, qubits can be prepared in arbitrary combinations of 0 and 1. Such a combination is called a superposition state. Going from one qubit to many, the number of such available quantum states grows rapidly by 2 states for 1 qubit, 4 states for 2 qubits, and 1024 states for 10 qubits. The number of such states in a modest quantum computer with, say, 300 qubits, becomes greater than the number of atoms in the entire visible universe! Now you can create a superposition which is a combination of all these states and manipulate it.
The ability to create and manipulate so many states is one of the key factors that make quantum computers extremely powerful compared to conventional computers when solving certain types of problems. The power doesn’t come from doing the task faster but by doing it in a completely different way some sort of quantum shortcut! In the 1990s, Peter Shor, a scientist working at Bell Labs in the United States, showed that if you use these new rules, they can actually solve the prime factorization problem explained earlier. Lov Grover, also of Bell Labs, has shown that a certain type of research problem can be solved in far fewer steps. And so he began the rush to build quantum computers.
The National Quantum Mission, approved by the Union Cabinet with a budget of Rs 6,000 crore, will focus on different aspects of quantum technologies and is broadly divided into the four verticals Quantum Computing and Simulations, Quantum Communications, Quantum Sensing and Quantum Metrology and Materials and devices. Each of these verticals will be coordinated by a thematic hub (T-Hub), which will be established as a Section 8 corporation to offer greater freedom and flexibility, compared to conventional funding models.
All interested parties should come together to form a cohesive team to bid for T-Hubs through an open tender. In addition, the hubs will also conduct translational research, incubate start-ups, build industry connections, foster international collaboration, run an outreach program, and also develop a comprehensive human resource development initiative to create the workforce needed to execute this mission.
There are several competing approaches to building quantum computing hardware. Since it is not yet clear what method could produce a practical quantum computer, the National Quantum Mission will focus on key hardware platforms such as trapped ions, superconductors, semiconductors, photonics and neutral atom qubits, keeping an eye out for any new emerging platforms. The goal is to develop quantum computers with 50-100 qubits in about 5 years and accelerate to 1,000 qubits and beyond in 8 years on various hardware platforms.
Today’s qubits are still unstable and hold information for only a short time on the order of milliseconds or less. Therefore, strong emphasis will be placed on developing methods to stabilize these qubits using quantum error correction and improve the accuracy of computers. There will also be a focus on developing quantum software for applications relevant to India’s needs. The mission will create an ecosystem that will enable startups to develop and deliver quantum computer component technologies and also create strong long-term business cases.
While broad funding is important, it is the establishment of systems and processes that will be key to the success of national quantum missions. This will need to include aggressive hiring of new talent, intensive training programs, industry engagement to create future workforce opportunities, and practices to attract and retain good talent. By reducing delays in disbursing funds and eliminating import restrictions on critical enabling technologies, we will be able to move forward quickly and avoid wasting time and resources. The mission will spawn several internally developed technologies, but in an increasingly globalized world, a careful balance must be struck between a drive for self-sufficiency and rapid access to much-needed (and readily available) global resources. With several discoveries still needed to make quantum computers practical and useful, the mission should aim to create the right conditions for these advances to take place in India.
Quantum computing and other quantum technologies are being aggressively pursued by many countries around the world. The National Quantum Mission offers India a huge opportunity to contribute significantly in this area with many factors and conditions working in its favour, such as a large and young talent pool and a rapidly accelerating infrastructure for research and development. high-tech development. However, it will require dedicated teamwork with smart and efficient execution by all parties involved. An optimal mix of basic, applied and translational R&D, with a continuous and effective program of evaluation, is needed to keep India relevant in this highly critical area of science and technology and prepare the ground for assuming a leadership position in the 21st century.
Prof. R. Vijayaraghavan is Associate Professor of Physics at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai and is an expert in superconducting quantum processors. Views are personal.
(edited by Humra Laeeq)
#launch #National #Quantum #Mission #India #enters #race #advanced #computing #big