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Context: National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications.
In the Budget 2020 speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a welcome announcement for Indian science over the next five years she proposed spending ₹8,000 crore on a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications.
This brings us to the questions of Quantum Technology. In this article, we will explain the below:
# What is Quantum Technology?
# What is Quantum Computing?
# What are the potential/applications of Quantum Technology?
# What are the challenges to Quantum Technology?
# What is National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications?
# Where does India stands and what is way forward?
What is Quantum Technology?
- Quantum physics is the foundation of many modern technologies. The first generation of quantum technology provides the basis for key areas such as semiconductor and laser technology.
- The “new” quantum technology, based on influencing individual quantum systems, has been the subject of research for about the last 20 years. Quantum technology has great economic potential due to its extensive research programs conducted in specialized quantum technology centres throughout the world.
- Quantum technology seeks to harness the peculiar laws of quantum mechanics to build more powerful tools for processing information. Scientists are using the technology to develop new kinds of computers and communications networks, and sensors for imaging and measuring things in novel ways.
- Quantum mechanics is a science that describes the unique behavior of matter and energy at the atomic and subatomic level. These particles don’t obey the laws of classical Newtonian physics.
- In simpe terms, Quantum technology is a class of technology that works by using the principles of quantum mechanics (the physics of sub-atomic particles), including quantum entanglement and quantum superposition.
- For example, they can be in “superposition,” meaning they can exist in multiple states at the same time. They can also exhibit “entanglement,” where two or more particles are inextricably linked and mirror each other exactly, even when separated by great physical distance.
What is quantum computing?
- A quantum computer uses quantum bits, or qubits, to process information in new ways. Qubits, which can be made of atoms or subatomic particles, behave according to the laws of quantum mechanics.
- Quantum computers store and process information using quantum two level systems (quantum bits or qubits) which unlike classical bits, can be prepared in superposition states. This key ability makes quantum computers extremely powerful compared to conventional computers when solving certain kinds of problems like finding prime factors of large numbers and searching large databases.
- The prime factorization quantum algorithm has important implications for security as it can be used to break RSA encryption, a popular method for secure communication.
What are the potential/applications of Quantum Technology?
The range of quantum technologies is expected to be one of the major technology disruptions that will change entire paradigm of computation, communication and encryption. It is perceived that the countries who achieve an edge in this emerging field will have a greater advantage in garnering multifold economic growth and dominant leadership role.
- A fully functioning quantum computer has the potential to be transformative.
- The exponentially greater calculation power could help identify new chemical compounds to treat intractable diseases, and eliminate traffic snarls by predicting and managing the flow of vehicles.
- However, the machines may also be able to crack all existing forms of encryption, which is a major worry for militaries, governments and businesses that handle sensitive data.
- Quantum Communication:
- “Quantum communication” is actually more like quantum-supported physical communication. The transmittance of information, be it raw data or video calls, still requires the usual physical connections.
- Quantum techniques can also be used to improve the efficiency and capacity of communication channels.
- Photonics, the method of using light particles, photons, to transmit or carry information is a less resource-intensive process, since photons are more accessible than other sources of energy, and fibre cables weigh around 40 times less than cables currently used for telephone lines and broadband internet.
- Cryptography: Key-based security protocols are already used, but leverages quantum effects to decrease the risk of interception, decryption, hacking and data leakage.
- Sensors, imaging and measurement:
- Since quantum effects are extremely sensitive, a quality which actually poses a challenge for quantum computers. These quantum effects can produce high-precision sensing and imaging tools.
- The technology commonly uses single photons for tools like gravity sensors, rotation sensors, magnetic sensors, atomic clocks and imaging.
- These tools can then be used for industrial and commercial applications including underground object detection, medical diagnostics, autonomous vehicle sensors, navigation and precise timing for military use.
- Simulation for research and development: As a consequence of progress in quantum computing, there are now opportunities to run virtual simulations instead of physical research and experiments, in sectors like drug discovery, material production and manufacturing.
What are the challenges to Quantum Technology?
- Cost and resources: To produce quantum phenomena, scientists need to carefully control the environment (i.e. temperature) and manipulate material with extreme precision at tiny scales. The tools to do this, like refrigeration systems and nanotechnology instruments amount to a huge expense, which presents a significant barrier to entry for quantum technology companies without access to a university or research lab.
- Pitching for the future: Return on investment is particularly hard to predict for quantum products. For some technologies, the true value of the product depends on the advance of quantum technology in other areas. For example, quantum software products become extremely valuable only after the proliferation of quantum computers; post-quantum cryptography becomes more valuable as quantum computing power increases.
- Infrastructure transition: In some cases deploying quantum technologies at scale requires a significant overhaul of the existing core infrastructure. Examples include timing and navigation systems, communication networks, and internet security protocols.
- Technology at scale: Much of the quantum technologies work now is to scale-up or improve quantum technologies to create useful commercial products. To create useful commercial products, each quantum subsector has to overcome particular limits:
- Quantum computing has yet to reach large-scale processing power due to decoherence – when quantum systems interact with the external environment and quantum effects are lost.
- Quantum communication has yet to cover large distances in a way that is efficient and scalable
- Quantum simulation produces results which are hard to validate and verify
- Quantum sensing is still subject to quantum noise – errors resulting from quantum uncertainty due to the high-sensitivity of the technology, and optical losses reductions in the light intensity due to photon interactions which reduce reliability.
What is National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications?
- Quantum Technologies & Applications is one of the 9 missions of national importance, being driven by the Prime Minister’s Science and Technology Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC) through the (Principal Scientific Advisor) PSA’s office to leverage cutting edge scientific research for India’s sustainable development.
- The areas of focus would both be in fundamental science and towards developing technology platforms in the Four identified verticals:
- Quantum Computing & Simulations;
- Quantum Materials & Devices;
- Quantum Communications;
- Quantum Sensor & Metrology.
- The next generation transformative technologies that will receive a push under this mission include quantum computers and computing, quantum communication, quantum key distribution, encryption, crypt analysis, quantum devices, quantum sensing, quantum materials, quantum clock and so on.
- The areas of focus for the Mission will be in fundamental science, translation, technology development, human and infrastructural resource generation, innovation and start-ups to address issues concerning national priorities.
- The Mission will be able address the ever increasing technological requirements of the society, and take into account the international technology trends and road maps of leading countries for development of next generation technologies.
- Implementation of the mission would help develop and bring quantum computers, secured communications through fibre and free space, quantum encryption and crypt-analysis and associated technologies within reach in the country and help address India specific national and regional issues.
- The mission will help prepare next generation skilled manpower, boost translational research and also encourage entrepreneurship and start-up ecosystem development.
- By promoting advanced research in quantum science and technology, technology development and higher education in science, technology and engineering disciplines India can be brought at par with other advanced countries and can derive several direct and indirect benefits.
Where does India stands and what is way forward?
- India at present is plagued by a lack of sufficient resources, high quality manpower, timeliness and flexibility.
- The new announcement in the Budget would greatly help fix the resource problem but high quality manpower is in global demand.
- A previous programme called Quantum Enabled Science and Technology has just been fully rolled out.
- The government, its partner institutions and the scientific community need to work out details of the mission and roll it out quickly.
With a solid research base and workforce founded on significant and reliable government support, it can lead to the creation of innovative applications by industries, thereby stimulating economic growth and job creation, which will feed back into a growing quantum-based economy. The government’s financial and organizational support will also ensure that both public and private sectors will benefit. It will establish standards to be applied to all research and help stimulate a pipeline to support research and applications well into the future.