NOVI, MI – If you think autonomous driving is decades away, think again, auto industry executives say.

“They are just wrong,” Ford Vice President Ken Washington says of the naysayers. “The evidence is all around us.”

Ford expects to deploy self-driving cars to public roads by 2021, but Washington, who heads the automaker’s research and advanced engineering group, notes it is happening today in a relatively advanced fashion on the streets of California, Arizona and Michigan.

“Uber is doing the same (testing),” he says of the upstart ride-hailing service. “Others are as well.”

There is reason for skepticism. Complex technological breakthroughs in sensing and radar equipment, as well as roadway mapping, still lie ahead. Consumer acceptance also remains a question, and issues around liability and the proper regulatory framework also must be sorted out.

The environment has led Ralph Nader, a longtime safety advocate and industry critic, to proclaim fully autonomous vehicles are at least a generation away. He says driving requires far too many judgement calls beyond the capability of future software, and the risk that driverless vehicles could be hacked is legitimate.

Washington thinks otherwise. “I’m very optimistic the target of 2021 is possible,” he tells the SAE Convergence conference here, citing the “amazing speed” of technological development.

“We have these super computers in our pockets,” he says, motioning to his smartphone. “You could have never predicted that 30 years ago.”

Jon Lauckner, chief technology officer at General Motors, agrees. GM also is testing driverless technology on public roads in the U.S.

“And I can assure you our plan is not to test them for the next 30 years,” Lauckner says.

Next year, GM will add automated highway-driving technology to the Cadillac CT6 large luxury sedan.

“Progress is going to come far faster than that,” he adds. “Not as fast as some of us hope, but certainly quite a bit faster than some of pessimists think.”

Jeff Owens, chief technology officer and executive vice president at global supplier Delphi, admits much work remains to be done, but the two traditional technology-deployment blockers of government regulation and product liability support autonomy.

“It’s going to be here very shortly,” says Owens, whose company is testing the technology in Singapore with an eye to field driverless prototypes for public use in the island country by 2019.