Why India’s quantum computer foray matters

India’s quantum computer foray: why it matters (Photo: IBM)
India’s quantum computer foray: why it matters (Photo: IBM)


Quantum computers are believed to be 100 million times faster than even the most advanced supercomputers

On Wednesday, the union cabinet gave its nod to a 6,000 crore National Quantum Mission (NQM) to develop quantum computers and scale up research and development in quantum technologies. Mint explains the need for such computing:

Why do we need quantum computing?

Normal computers process information in bits (ones and zeroes). Quantum computers have qubits that can process ones and zeroes simultaneously. Quantum computers are believed to be 100 million times faster than even the most advanced supercomputers. Google’s quantum computer, powered by its Sycamore chips with 54 qubits, was able to carry out an experimental calculation in just 3 minutes and 20 seconds. The same calculation, on the world’s most powerful supercomputer, would have taken around 10,000 years! Quantum computing can accelerate research in areas from health to finance.

Is this India’s first such mission?

Yes, this is India’s first quantum computing mission. In 2020, the union finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, said in her budget speech that the government has set aside 8,000 crore for a national mission on quantum technologies and applications. The National Quantum Mission, announced on 19 April by union minister for science and technology Jitendra Singh, is the same mission even though the reduced budget makes it seem like a separate mission. Many countries in past have done phased investments in their quantum missions. China’s initial investment was $1 billion.

Graphic: Mint
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Graphic: Mint

How will these funds be used?

They will be given to technical and research institutes, which can then collaborate with startups and other firms to develop quantum computers and their applications. Government agencies such as the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing might get involved at some stage. Thematic hubs will be set up in top academic and R&D institutes.

What progress has India made so far?

India doesn’t have many startups working on quantum applications. However, a few are working with global companies. Bengaluru-based BosonQ Psi is now part of IBM’s Quantum Network startup program, developing algorithms for simulations on quantum systems. Indian IT firms such as TCS and Tech Mahindra are working with technical institutes to support research. In 2021, the govt launched a quantum simulator, QSim, allowing researchers to simulate quantum computation on supercomputers.

What are other firms & countries doing?

Quantum computing is still in its early stages, with no commercially available quantum computers. Google, IBM, D-Wave Systems, Honeywell, Ion-Q, Alibaba, and Rigetti Computing have developed systems for research and are working to make them stable. The US, China, Canada, Germany, France and Finland have announced missions. Some have earmarked bigger funds. China has allocated $15.3 billion, the European Union $7.2 billion, and the US $1.2 billion (on its National Quantum Initiative).

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