Slow start to India’s quantum plans poised to change

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Globally, there is a veritable quantum computing race on right now. As countries and large corporations commit resources to this 21st century gold rush, India too has thrown its hat in the ring with a considerable amount of Rs 8,000 crore. Here, in the last segment of a three-part interview with Shalini S. Dagar, Sunil Gupta of QNu Labs shares his views on the possible way forward. Edited excerpts:

Q: In last year’s Budget, the government announced an outlay of Rs 8,000 crore for quantum computing. How is this outlay actually playing out because we did not see any concrete follow-up.

A: It was a great move but we all know that coronavirus happened last year. Economy went down and growth went negative. Obviously it was a cash crunched economy so I am sure that money distribution and a lot of the grants have not happened, but a lot of detailing of plans, involvement of stakeholders has happened. My view is that now we are ready to really take off. This year, I am expecting a lot more deployment of that money and funds would happen. We are involved in certain areas. We are a part of that mission. One of our key members contributes to it. And the ecosystem that we have built up will be very, very critical. For example, according to the Mission, some 5,000 people need to be trained in quantum technology. At present, we just have around 150-200 people available in India. 

This is where we can play a role. We have built a platform for training which can be acquired by academic institutions to learn the basics.

My view is that the Mission will pick up momentum this year. And we are looking forward to it. This is an opportunity for India to put its stamp on the quantum computing map of the world. So there is an intent, there is a plan and there are funds. We just have to go and execute on it.

Q: You spoke about the quantum shield earlier. Could you please elaborate on it?

A: A nuclear war is considered to be a high impact but low likelihood risk, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). The likelihood of a data war on the other hand is very, very high. Impact is also very high. Given the geopolitical situation in which India finds itself, India may be compelled to engage in a data war. And in my view, the only way to protect yourself from a data war is to build a quantum shield.

My pitch always has been to build a quantum shield for India. I believe India has a beautiful fibre optic infrastructure laid out throughout the world. Now we should leverage that network and build quantum technology on top of it and make sure that we build smaller, regional quantum networks and then later on maybe connect all of these through satellites. That is the need of the hour. If we get started now, we can get it done in the next few years.

I believe India has the reason to do it and the right path to do it. 

Q: Do you think there is enough buy-in from the government on this? Or does it fall on the wayside with other priorities?

A : No, I think there is high priority. Government is very cognizant of it. Some of the discussions that we have been having have been in that direction. There is definitely a sense of urgency and there is clear understanding and there is work going on this.

Only question is the speed. How quickly can we deploy this? That is where we are hoping, it happens quickly.

Read also: Part 1 of Sunil Gupta’s interview: Market for quantum tech growing faster than anticipated

Part 2 of the interview with QNu Lab’s Sunil Gupta: ‘Cybersecurity is all about tomorrow’s technology today’

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