A quantum edge for India

October 9, 2020 6:45 AM

India’s investment in developing quantum computing and applications will reap rich dividends in the future

QC derives from the principles of quantum mechanics. (Representative image)QC derives from the principles of quantum mechanics. (Representative image)

By Prithwis De & Anil K Kanungo

Economies are, of late, realising the potentiality and significance of quantum computing (QC) especially in the event of uncertainty such as global climate change, global financial crisis, cyber frauds, and, more importantly, the outbreak of Covid-19. Google et al have invested billions.

The Indian government, aware of its usefulness, has allocated Rs 8,000 crore in the FY21 budget, to be spent over the next five years on the National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Application.

Therefore, the immediate question is, can QC really handle problems as envisioned, more so, in the light of Covid-19? QC can accomplish tasks at a pace impossible for traditional computers. In classical computing, information stored in bits accepts the discrete values of either 0 or 1. For example, if storing a particular number requires 64 bits, then 100 numbers will occupy 64*100=6,400 bits, whereas, in QC, the information is stored in quantum bits (or qubits). A qubit, can represent 0 and 1 parallelly or exist somewhere in between, enabling larger storage and much faster calculation.

QC derives from the principles of quantum mechanics. It can solve multiple problems simultaneously and produce numerous scenarios within a fraction of time. It can also coordinate computers that are physically away from each other, and thus, their effects can be applied in multiple geographies irrespective of their location.

At present, drug discovery and design are making headlines because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Traditionally, pharma companies take about 10-15 years for drug discovery and innovation, leading to large expenses. Currently, some of the pharma and life sciences companies are trying hard to discover a vaccine for Covid-19 within a short duration of time. Within the entire process, during the discovery phase, the pharma companies need to take into consideration several permutations and combinations of molecules and other factors, match and compare molecules and extract information at a much deeper level, which is computationally very intensive. These life sciences companies need to run numerous chemical formulation and biological processes to discover a drug. QC can make the entire process faster, cost-effective and enable pharma companies to get medicines to people more swiftly and effectively for a wide range of diseases and conditions. QC has the potential to solve the problems through quantum-based optimisation along with Artificial Intelligence (AI). Besides, QC has the capability to scale-up production scheduling in manufacturing a drug. To identify the optimal outcome, QC can run multiple simulations at the same time. Moreover, the quantum-inspired optimisation algorithm can help improve the efficiency of the supply chain by determining the number of carriers, types of carriers, size of carriers, warehouses or distribution centres to load items, their quantities, timing, frequency, unloading strategy, and so on.

QC can be implemented in many exciting applications such as running simulations of future states, large-scale optimisation of processes in businesses and industries, DNA and other forms of molecular modelling, extensive database access, encryption and information security, stress analysis for mechanical systems, financial portfolio optimisation, detection of fraudulent transaction, amongst others. Researchers have analysed extensions of game theory through QC in detail as well. It can help in quicker knowledge reasoning through quantum parallelism in communication systems for better coordination and synchronisation. It may even be equipped to offer more accurate and real-time weather forecast!

Another significant potential contribution of QC would be from a sustainability perspective. It will likely evolve to be tremendously energy efficient.

While QC is still in its early stages and currently limited within the labs of the big tech companies, higher capacity and quicker computation will change the way we process and analyse data today. Researchers from both business and academic world are eagerly waiting for the quantum leap and transformation.

De is a London-based artificial intelligence researcher, and Kanungo is professor, LBSIM, Delhi

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