DETROIT -- Self-driving cars aren't just possible. They're inevitable.
So says Ray Kurzweil, the inventor and futurist who's now director of engineering for Google.
Indeed, the days when an inexpensive computer outperforms a human at a task such as driving aren't far off, Kurzweil said in a speech last week to the SAE World Congress.
"The price, performance and capacity of information technology -- not every technology -- follows a very predictable path" of exponential, rather than linear, growth, he said. At the current pace of progress, he predicted, a $1,000 computer would be able to "emulate all the computation of the brain" by 2022.
Kurzweil said self-driving vehicles will prove their utility in the marketplace by helping to drastically reduce the number of people injured and killed in accidents, and by freeing people up to do something useful with their commute times.
Moreover, he predicted, the ownership model for cars will change once they're able to drive themselves, potentially shifting to something like the ride-hailing service Uber or the home-sharing app Airbnb, in which consumers are able to access a ride when they wish, without having to own a vehicle.
Kurzweil, 67, is known for bold predictions and some prescient calls. In a best-selling book he wrote in 1990, for example, he predicted the rise of the Internet and connected smartphones, more than a decade before they became mainstream.
He delved into the automotive world at a time when his company is developing prototypes of fully autonomous vehicles, while traditional automakers experiment with a range of futuristic driver-assistance and powertrain technologies.
He predicted that breakthroughs in technology for 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.