QCs are now available as a cloud-based service to anyone with an internet connection. We will see the unveiling of more powerful QCs over the next five years. How prepared is India to ride the quantum technology wave?
Introduced as an idea by Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman in the early 1980s, QCs are not merely faster versions of the computers we use but are machines based on the laws of quantum physics. A typical QC hardware computes by manipulating electrons and nuclei using electromagnetic radiation from lasers. The technology is complex as precise control over these delicate manipulation schemes is necessary to perform calculations. If this technology can be mastered, QCs promise, at least for a certain class of problems, unprecedented computational speeds not attainable even by the fastest supercomputers available today.
There are a few competing hardware platforms (ion traps, superconducting qubits, etc) for a QC without a clear winner yet. Even the software stack has not been standardised. The field remains wide open for innovations. India has a unique advantage — the ability to build on its existing strengths in theoretical and experimental quantum sciences. However, to make a significant impact, India must invest in building QCs, enhancing quantum technology skill sets and seed an industry ecosystem to utilise this technology.
Barring a few premier institutions, quantum computing is not yet part of the curriculum in most Indian universities and colleges. This issue must be addressed through a programme to skill faculty, enabling them to teach engineering and science undergraduates. By 2024, India’s software developer community is expected to be the largest in the world. By training this community, India can create a quantum workforce for itself and the world.
GoI and the industry must support interdisciplinary research and development in quantum science and technologies. As part of the National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications (NM-QTA), the 2020 budget had committed ₹8,000 crore. Also, a Technology Innovation Hub (TIH) for quantum technologies has been set up at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, focused on translating research into products and services. These investments must increase. At present, private investments are lacking. Industry and PSUs must be incentivised to evaluate and work on applications relevant to their domain.
Quantum technologies include a whole gamut of interrelated technologies — quantum cryptography, quantum sensors, quantum materials, quantum meteorology, etc. Products based on quantum cryptography for secure communications are already available in the market. However, unambiguous evidence of societal benefits of QCs is still lacking. Demonstrating a few showcase applications is critical to persuade industry to invest in quantum technologies. These applications could be in drug discovery, logistics and optimisation, new materials, fintech, machine learning and defence. This will have a cascading effect of seeding a vibrant quantum startup ecosystem leading to job-creation and economic growth.
India must build its own competitively sized QC in mission mode by pooling its existing academic expertise. A few indigenous QCs will give India a voice in shaping the future of quantum computing. With the right policy framework and incentives, India has the potential to become a key player in a global quantum technology market anticipated to reach $31.57 billion (₹2.32 lakh crore) by 2026. This will generate more technical jobs in the coming decades. India must move fast to respond to the fast-evolving quantum landscape.
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