View from India: the incredible potential of quantum computing
There is growing interest and investment in quantum computing, but we’ve barely touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It could take some time before the potential of this technology is fully realized for new drug discovery, scientific explorations and more.
An image of the penicillin molecule can be difficult to analyze, let alone molecules with over 100 components. This is where quantum computing fits in. It has a unique ability to calculate structures at atomic and subatomic scales and does so with precision. This is just one of its attributes. Not surprisingly, the technology can find applications in communications satellites that can be transmitted to receivers on Earth. This can be used for scientific studies. That’s not all. Quantum computing can be used in healthcare, communication, and large-scale optimization like traffic flow, cargo delivery, and task simulation. This could probably help sift through large chunks of data related to climate or population.
Given this diversity, government and private companies are investing in this technology for research and commercial applications. Startups may also seek opportunities in software, hardware, and manufacturing of smaller parts. The 2020 Union budget has earmarked 8,000 crore (80 billion) rupees (£860 million) for research into quantum technologies over the next five years.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had also announced a collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to develop a Quantum Computing Applications Lab. A quantum computing lab and AI center at a military engineering institute in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh has been established by the Indian Army. Last year, the Indian government launched Quantum Simulator (QSim) devices to study quantum effects, which can be difficult to pursue in a lab. This is for developers, scientists and students to research quantum computing. The platform was built by Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee and Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC). Browsers can connect from anywhere via qctoolkit.com. Google also announced a similar QSim last year. IBM has developed initiatives such as IBM Quantum Challenge, IBM Quantum Summer School and Qiskit Challenge-India. Qiskit is IBM’s open source software development kit. Honeywell and Boeing offer cloud simulations of quantum computing.
Hopefully, these efforts will trigger further studies on the technology. The next thing that comes to mind is quantum computers, which are far removed from ordinary classical computers. Standard computers store information as binary 0 and 1 states. The quantum computing analogue of classical computer bits is the qubit or quantum bits. A qubit can be in any combination of states. This differentiator gives it extra mileage that can be used to deduce large calculations.
Quantum computers cannot replace classical computers. They could collaborate with classical computers to solve computational problems. Quantum computer algorithms could be used to measure and understand the shortcomings of classical computers.
An intrinsic characteristic of quantum computers is that they must be kept cold, much colder than the surrounding area. It would take a lot of engineering and tweaking to improve the technology and build large-scale quantum computers and implement them to understand the structure of molecules and new materials. “The real challenge today is not to build a quantum computer and show that it can work (it can)…however, to advance the technology and build super quantum computers at large scale,” said Shohini Ghose of Wilfrid Laurier University. at the Keysight World Innovate event held virtually.
Moreover, quantum computers are based on quantum mechanics and quantum uncertainty, which can be used functionally. To give an example, it may not be possible to know every property, motion and location of an electron or atom. Quantum uncertainty, by its very nature, can be applied to create a computer model to obtain information about the electron or atom. In doing so, the IT landscape expands and can be used to combat security threats. “If you want to hide information from eavesdroppers, quantum computing can be used to encode information about quantum data. When a particle bit and a quantum bit interact, they can lock together. Together they have a connection and their co-relationship can be exploited to develop a new type of computing protocols and calculations,” added Ghose, an award-winning quantum physicist who has shed light on the basics of quantum computing, its promises, its dangers, and what to expect in the future.
The quantum computing process involves teleportation. Simply put, quantum teleportation occurs when quantum information is transferred from source to destination through entangled states. “Quantum teleportation is mind-boggling. Teleporting qubits can open avenues in the quantum internet, networks, and issues related to privacy and confidentiality,” explained Jeff Harris, vice president, portfolio and corporate marketing at Keysight Technologies.
Quantum computing can impact various sections of society, it can be a social impact revolution. But then somewhere people could start and it could become a use case that others could emulate. As with other technologies, there are bottlenecks here too. “Performance, scalability and availability are among the three technical challenges of quantum computing. We design products based on the three parameters to solve various problems. We are creating the next generation quantum engineers by training them on YouTube and through partnership initiatives,” explained Giampaolo Tardioli, Vice President, Communications Solutions Group, Keysight Technologies.
The decades-long hype around quantum systems probably still exists. Still, it could offer both short-term and long-term potential. But then, technical challenges may need to be overcome for quantum systems to realize their promise in areas spanning cybersecurity, materials creation, financial analysis, and military receivers.
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