The Narendra Modi government seems to be betting big on new innovations like artificial intelligence, the internet of things, 3D printing, drones, DNA data storage and quantum technology to rewrite India’s economic order. In particular, it’s relying heavily on quantum technology to take governance to the next level and bring about change in the way industries operate in the near future. Not many would expect the Indian government to decide on investing `8,000 crore on a national mission for quantum technology and applications. This mission may be aimed at initiating change in communications, cyber security, weather forecasting and climate change, and handling diverse areas like growing traffic on roads, railways, ports, airports, etc.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s announcement on the mission during the Budget on February 2 reflects India’s determination to gain supremacy globally in quantum technologies or Q-bit based computing, racing against time and money with countries like the US, France, Germany, China and Russia. While these countries have already invested resources and human capital on Q-bit based computing in the last decade, India may have to work overtime to bridge the gap in its bid to gain supremacy in the field. Three large global tech majors like IBM, Microsoft and Google have been at the forefront in harvesting quantum computing capabilities in many sectors.
In layman’s terms, quantum computing could resolve problems that may take thousands of years for conventional systems to work out. For instance, with Q-bit, no code is ‘hack resistant’. Information technology-based security infrastructure would never be the same once quantum systems become a reality, given that they give the power to hack into anyone’s networks in a jiffy. Warfare and conflict strategists will have new challenges to face. The new Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat’s plans may have to be reworked to develop integrated war-theatre strategies factoring in quantum technologies.
Tsunamis, drought, earthquakes and floods may become more predictable with quantum applications, thereby greatly avoiding destruction to life and property like what was recently witnessed in Odisha, Jammu & Kashmir, and elsewhere. Battling issues like climate change, steep vacillations in temperature or weather conditions could be easier, as it will have a profound impact on agriculture, food technology chains and the limiting of farmland wastage.
Even developing sustainable rechargeable batteries to run environment-friendly integrated transport systems could be possible if India were to gain quantum computing supremacy. Artificial intelligence and machine learning that companies like TCS, Infosys, Tech Mahindra and other tech majors are banking on to usher industrial revolution 4.0 would be different with computing on Q-bits. India’s interest in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry is huge. Quantum computing could reduce the time frame of the discovery of new molecules and related processes to a few days from the present 10-year slog that scientists put in. For instance, tracking protein behaviour or even modelling new proteins with the help of quantum computers could be a positive. Tackling chronic diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart ailments is a big possibility of the tech.
Similarly, the quantum initiative could give a big boost to the Genome India project, a collaborative effort of 20 institutions to enable new efficiencies in life sciences, agriculture and medicine. Intelligent interplay of gene sequencing coupled with supercomputer capabilities would impact the way we think or behave going forward. Mapping gene pools globally would not only enable the understanding of human evolution but also throw light on diversity in animal and plant resources. India’s mission to develop 50 Q-bit computers in 4-5 years is a tall order, but certainly achievable given the computing prowess that we have. India has the third highest number of research papers on quantum technologies, though we lag on actual research. The exponential power of quantum tech could change the communications industry. Communication among satellites in orbits or messaging with earth-based receivers on a real-time basis could alter the way we manage our multimedia systems apart from the security applications that many countries are after.
China and the US seem to be ahead of Russian researchers in establishing quantum-based technology networks, thereby sparking a scare in others. Reports suggested that the University of Science & Technology in China is already in the process of developing quantum communication networks connecting Beijing with Shanghai, Guangzhou and five other cities through satellites and fibre-optic cables. These reports sent a shiver down the US spine, leading them to push IBM, Google and Microsoft to hasten their efforts. Micius, the first quantum-based satellite reportedly launched by China way back in 2016 apparently managed the first teleconference call between Beijing and Vienna in 2017 using proprietary encryption, making it virtually impossible to eavesdrop. Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and Huawei have given an edge to Chinese supremacy by providing computing capabilities based on Q-bits.
In this horizon of technological warfare, India will have to make a determined bid not just to safeguard its strategic interests but also to harvest quantum tech for economic and development applications. What may work in its favour is forging partnerships with like-minded countries, private companies and foreign investors to make headway.
India’s mission to develop 50 Q-bit computers in 4-5 years is a tall order, but certainly achievable given the computing prowess that we have. ... What may work in India’s favour is forging partnerships with like-minded countries, private companies and foreign investors to make headway
K A Badarinath
Senior journalist and economic analyst based in New Delhi Email: firstname.lastname@example.org