DETROIT -- Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist and Google’s director of engineering, opened the SAE World Congress here by pointing out that predicting the future is easy. If you do it right. And he concluded self-driving cars are inevitable.
In a wide-ranging speech today in front of a standing-room crowd, Kurzweil laid out how and why he sees technology impacting lives over the next 30 years and beyond.
He touched on everything from 3D printing to virtual reality, immortality to autonomous cars, but he said advances in each were linked by a common thread.
“There’s one aspect of the future you can really predict and really anticipate when disruptive change will occur,” Kurzweil said on stage. “The price, performance and capacity of information technology -- not every technology -- follows a very predictable path.”
Google’s top visionary delved into the automotive world at a time when his company is developing autonomous vehicles and showing early prototypes.
On self-driving cars, Kurzweil said not only will they help drastically reduce the number of people injured and killed in accidents, they’ll also free us up to do something useful with our commute times. Additionally, the ownership model for cars will change once they’re able to drive themselves, potentially shifting to something like Uber or the house-sharing app Airbnb, Kurzweil said.
Breakthroughs in battery technology for both hydrogen fuel cell and electric vehicles remain 10 to 15 years away, as they piggyback on developments in nanotechnology that will allow for much denser energy storage than is available today.
Later in this century, virtual reality will become indistinguishable from actual reality, and humans will be able to “back up their brains” much in the same way they back up phones and computers today.
“I don’t believe our consciousness and free will and identity is limited to just a body,” Kurzweil said.
The technology path
The path for technology development is exponential rather than linear, Kurzweil said. This is why a smartphone today is a million times cheaper and several thousand times more powerful than computers when Kurzweil, now 67, was a student at MIT in the late 1960s.
Over the course of his speech, Kurzweil discussed how this accelerating pace of advancements will impact life -- a theme he’s written about at length in several best-selling books.
In his first, written in 1990, Kurzweil predicted the rise of the Internet and connected smartphones more than a decade before they became mainstream.
By extrapolating this growth into the future, Kurzweil said today, he expects a $1,000 computer will be able to “emulate all the computation of the brain” by 2022. Advances in 3D printing will allow consumers to print clothes from home by the end of the decade.
Computers will continue to shrink, so much so that by 2030, they’ll be the size of blood cells, which will have a dramatic effect on prolonging life. This also will allow people to connect directly to the Internet without external devices, an advancement that isn’t as big a leap from what is done today as it may seem, he pointed out.
“Our brains are already on the Internet, just need to use devices to access the information with our fingers, our eyes and our ears,” Kurzweil said.
But not everything can be fixed by technology, the inventor admitted.
“You can fix a broken heart, for example, but not yet for romance. That’s going to take a couple more decades.”