Science & Technology

Union Budget 2020-21: Quantum computing gets funds

Rs 8,000 crore over 5 years may go some way to help Indian researchers catch up with a dast-evolving global scene

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Sunday 02 February 2020

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Union Budget for 2020-21, presented on February 1, 2020, proposed Rs 8,000 crore over five years for National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications. 

Sitharaman said:

“Quantum technology is opening up new frontiers in computing, communications, cyber security with wide-spread applications. It is expected that lots of commercial applications would emerge from theoretical constructs which are developing in this area.”

Quantum technologies comprise quantum computing, quantum communication, quantum optics, quantum information processing, quantum internet and quantum artificial intelligence.

One of the basic objectives being pursued by scientists is the construction of a practical quantum computer. 

A quantum computer uses the wacky world of quantum physics to manipulate information in ways even the most powerful super computers cannot. The interest and excitement about quantum computer is because of its power to dabble with complex calculations involved in fields like cyber-security which digital computers now deal with.

Quantum communications deals with the information processing based on qubits. It can enhance (cyber) security, provide unique fingerprints and also increase available bandwidth for internet networks.

A digital computer’s basic language is made up of 0s and 1s, called bits. But a quantum computer has an expanded language in the form of “qubits”. These can be either 0 or 1 simultaneously, which is the core characteristic of quantum physics. This expanded language provides the computer with greater space for processing information, and thus have a superlative computing power.

In India, some of the prominent institutions where research on quantum computing is being conducted are the Indian Institute of Science, the Raman Research Institute (RRI), both in Bengaluru, and the Harish Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad.

A 2017 Down To Earth article found that Indian researchers faced problems in research on the field because of a lack of applicability and paucity of funds — experiments on quantum computing are expensive.

The situation seemed to have improved though. RRI’s current projects include:

  • Quantum Experiments using Satellite Technology (QuEST), in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • Integrated photonics-based experimental quantum key distribution, a bilateral collaboration with Italy under the India Trento Programme on Advanced Research (ITPAR) grant.
  • Long-distance quantum communications under the central Department of Science and Technology’s network programme on quantum technologies, called ‘Quantum Enabled Science and Technology’.

The budgetary push coincides with rapid development in quantum technologies. In October 2019, Google LLC claimed an achievement of ‘quantum supremacy’, which meant the internet giant’s quantum computer could perform what conventional digital super computers couldn’t. In a counter, IBM Corp claimed it could reproduce the same results using conventional super computers.

The field is open and extremely competitive. Funds allocated by Government of India may go some way to aid Indian quantum technology researchers to catch up with their global counterparts. 

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