Budget 2020: What is quantum computing and why it is important

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Published: February 3, 2020 1:13:52 AM

Budget 2020-21: The mechanics of a quantum computer are quite different from a regular supercomputer.

Budget 2020 India, Budget 2020-21Budget 2020 India: Quantum computing works on something called qubits, where is a regular computer is guided by bits. The difference is that while a bit can only take one of the binary states either 1 or 0, a qubit can take any form depending on position or state.

Budget 2020-21:Last year Google announced that one of its machines had reached quantum supremacy, people had started deliberating on the use cases of technology. Now, the Indian government has also announced steps towards building a quantum base in India. On Saturday, the finance minister, in her Budget speech, said that India would spend Rs 8,000 crore over five years towards National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications.

What is quantum computing?

The idea of quantum computing first originated in the 1980s, when an American physicist, Paul Benioff, proposed a quantum model of Turing machine, used in the World War II period to crack codes. But the breakthrough in technology did not come till 1994, when Shor, developed a polynomial-time algorithm that may be able to break any cryptographic protocols. Since, then companies like Google, IBM have been engaged in developing a quantum machine that can operate Shor’s algorithm. In 2012, John Preskill coined the term quantum supremacy.

What is quantum supremacy?

In simple terms, it means a stage where a computer will be able to do calculations that a regular supercomputer will take a billion years to complete. While Preskill had said it would take decades to reach that stage, Google has been able to inch closer within a few years. Its quantum machine, Sycamore, was able to do calculations in 200 seconds, what a conventional supercomputer would take 10,000 years to complete. While IBM is contesting Google’s claims, its computer was able to do this in 2.5 days.

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How is this possible?

The mechanics of a quantum computer are quite different from a regular supercomputer. Till now computing is bound by Moore’s law-the law describes the rate of increase in the number of transistors (read computing power) that can be integrated into a silicon microchip-a shift to quantum changes that. While companies have been able to fit more computing power on smaller chips, quantum can provide even more power without relying on transistors and trying to fit more on a chip. Quantum computing works on something called qubits, where is a regular computer is guided by bits. The difference is that while a bit can only take one of the binary states either 1 or 0, a qubit can take any form depending on position or state.

Moreover, it can also appear in a state, where it is both 0 and 1. So, the number of states with each qubit is doubled. And, each additional qubit leads to exponential growth. Using our example, if one qubit is equal to two, the second qubit would be 4, the third would 8, and so forth.

Why is it so important?

Google machine that was able to achieve somewhat of quantum supremacy was 53 qubits. Shor’s algorithm requires more power to break cryptographic protocols. Imagine, WhatsApp has at present a system that has 256-bit encryption, although it never reaches its potential, but if it were to do so, that would mean 2 raise to the power 256 or 115 quattuorvigintillion (a 78 digit number) combinations. So, breaking such protocols is difficult. Once quantum supremacy is reached, computers will be able to break such protocols easily. Two, this would also mean that they would be able to present limitless opportunities. Government’s would be able to process data and provide real-time information. It would also enable them to forecast data much more accurately and with many different models. It shall also make space explorations and other tasks easier with computers able to handle a lot of scenarios at once.

What does India wish to do with quantum computers?

Most of the research in quantum computing is being carried out in the US. Google’s project, for instance, was with US space agency NASA. India wants to develop native quantum computing capabilities, which will help it further research in the field and assist in the delivery of services. The Rs 8,000 crore plan is focused on doing so. Although the amount is low, to begin with, but given the advances in technology and India’s ability to create low-cost solutions, the money may suffice. Besides, with companies like D-WAVE offering quantum computers for $15 million (`113 crore), India can surely achieve these capabilities at lower costs. Once, this is possible; it will aid the government in fraud detection and data analysis, which the government is already doing and that too in real-time.

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