The Journey of Quantum Technology

Dr. Banwari Lal Gupta
“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over everything, for nature cannot be fooled.” Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate
Since ages, mankind has been curious to know about the things around us and in nature. The journey of this curiosity about how, why, what, where, and when to explore has led to the development of science and technology. The word quantum came into existence from the word “Quantas of Energy” during the explanation of radiations emitted by a black body called black body radiations by Max Plank in 1894. He found that energy is emitted by objects only in quantized form, which means that atoms do not release energy continuously rather, energy is released in the form of discrete packets. Planck’s discovery marked an important moment in science because no one had ever realized earlier that energy is released from atoms, only in small, discrete amounts called Photons. The idea of quantum was further strengthened by Albert Einstein in 1905 in his paper on the explanation of the photoelectric effect. Both were awarded the Nobel Prizes in Physics in 1918 and 1921, respectively.
Louis-Victor de Broglie introduced the concept of the wave nature of Particles and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1929. Werner Karl Heisenberg developed the matrix mechanics formulation of quantum mechanics,whereas P.A. M. Dirac and Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger introduced wave equations in quantum mechanics. All of them were awarded the Nobel Prizes in 1932 and 1933, respectively. Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland developed experimental methods that enabled the measurement and manipulation of individual quantum systems and were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2012. A quantum system is a two-state system that exists in any quantum superposition of two independent quantum states. Such a system is a two-dimensional unit called a qubit.
Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger did experimental work on quantum entanglement, which laid the foundation for a new era of quantum technology. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2022. Quantum entanglement is the phenomenon that occurs when a group of particles are generated and share spatial proximity in such a way that the quantum stateof each particle of the group cannot be described independently of the state of the others, even when the particles are separated by a large distance. Quantum entanglement is a primary feature of quantum mechanics that is not present in classical mechanics. Quantum computing is based on the properties of superposition and entanglement in quantum mechanics. Quantum computers using Qubits are being built by various companies like Google and IBM to perform many computational calculations orders of magnitude faster than classical computing.
The race for transmission of data in quantum, called bits, binary digits of 0s and 1s, and bytes, started with the invention of logic gates. Mobile was the first discovery to send this data from an analog system in the 1970s based on AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System) technology by Bell Laboratory and Motorola to a digital system using GSM (Global System for Mobiles), CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), and TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) technology. Later, newer technologies like LTE (Long Term Evolution) and VOLTE (Voice Over Long-Term Evolution), MIMO (Massive Multiple Input and Multiple Output), SDN (Software Defined Networking), and RAN (Radio Access Network) were invented to send audio, video, and other data. Mobile generations like the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th have been classified based on their faster rate of transmission of data. Soon, we will have 6th and 7th generation mobiles, which will have the capabilities and facilities of Technology Convergence, Edge Computing, the Internet of Things (IOT), and High-Performance Computing. Because of physical constraints of matter, scientists are now looking for new options in technology to not only process and send the data at a much faster rate but also compute complex and abstruse calculations. Quantum Computing is the solution.
Quantum computing differs from traditional computing. It uses Quantum bits, or Qubits, which exist in multiple states simultaneously instead of just two states of 0s and 1s. A qubit is a basic unit of quantum information that uses the properties of quantum mechanics and is in a state of coherentsuperposition of both states 0 and 1. A Qubit represents a 0, a 1, or any proportion of 0 and 1 in superposition of both states, with a certain probability of being a 0 and a certain probability of being a 1. It is a two-state quantum mechanical system. Multiple qubits of Photons, ions, electrons, nuclei, and Quantum Dots can be formed through the superposition phenomenon, in which 0 and 1 exist at poles only, whereas qubit formed can exist anywhere on the sphere. They also exhibit quantum entanglement. Entangled qubits always correlate with each other to form a single system. Even when they are infinitely far apart, measuring the state of one of the qubits allows us to know the state of the other without needing to measure it directly. This is a curious effect whereby two or more particles display much stronger correlations than are possible in classical physics. Entanglement plays an important role in quantum computers. This property of the qubit gives it superior computing power over a classical computer. For example, 500 qubits can represent information, which is equivalent to 2500 classical bits. Further, Qubits can perform certain complex calculations in minutes, whereas their equivalent classical computers would take years to compute. In 2019, Google claimed that their quantum computer SYCAMORE performed an abstruse calculation in 200 seconds, which otherwise a supercomputer would take 10,000 years to solve.
A Quantum Processing unit (QPU) serves as the basic building block of a complete quantum computer and enables a form of computation built on quantum physics. Quantum chips, or QPUs, are connected to a classical Central Processing Unit (CPU) to provide a performance boost. Registers and gates in electronic circuitry, a quantum control unit, and an interface are the subsystems of the QPU. A quantum computer is built on a distinct hardware design and a multitude of qubit kinds, like spin-based qubits, which manipulate the spin of electrons and holes, tapped ion-based qubits, which manipulate trapped ions by electric fields and lasers, etc. To operate a quantum computer, new code and algorithms must be written. New Programming languages like, Pennylane, Qiskit, Q+, Cirq, etc. are being developed and employed for solving problems by performing operations on Quantum computers.
Quantum computing is still a young domain, and quantum computers are currently limited to performing very specific types of calculations. Moreover, qubits are very fragile systems and are easily affected by the earth’s magnetic field, radiation from devices in the vicinity, heat, neighbouring qubits, and so on. These are called noises, and hence today’s quantum computers are known as Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum (NISQ) devices. Noise can cause the information in the qubits to change, or even fade away. This is called decoherence. Noise and decoherence are the biggest hurdles in the way of quantum computers. To protect the quantum qubits from noise, controlled silos, controlled pulses of energy, etc. are used to keep the superconducting processor at an ultra-cold operational temperature. Further research is going on quantum error correction, quantum volume, quantum fault tolerance, noise-resilient quantum algorithms, etc. Drug Discovery, Security, Supply Chain and Retail, Cybersecurity, Quantum Sensing, Product Design, defense-related tasks, Life sciences, and Pharmaceuticals are some of the industrial applications that can use quantum computing to enhance and transform their businesses.
Nations and industries are slowly and steadily gearing up to leverage quantum computing and the development of Quantum Computers. India has also taken the lead in the National Quantum Mission with the launch of Quantum Enabled Science and Technology (QuEST) in 2018. In its 2020 budget, the government has announced a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications (NM-QTA) with a total budget outlay of Rs 8000 Crore for a period of five years to be implemented by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Mission for the indigenization of materials, devices, control systems, instrumentation, algorithms, software, promoting innovation and entrepreneurship (Start-Ups), international collaboration, etc. required for quantum technology. Indian Quantum startups like QNulabs BosonQ, QRDLab, QpiAI Tech, Taqbit Labs, etc. have come up to take the lead in the quantum technology race. Future technologies will be based on Quantum Sensors, Quantum Computers, and Quantum Communication and will revolutionize fields such as Cyber Security, Artificial intelligence, and Decision Sciences. A strong foundation is laid for future leadership in quantum-enabled technology. Let us join hands to cooperate, collaborate, and coordinate.
The author is Controller of Examinations, J&KBOPEE (Retd)