LAS VEGAS — Trump administration officials this week promoted a light-touch approach to regulating self-driving cars and artificial intelligence at one of the largest technology conferences in the world.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao described in a speech at CES (Consumer Electronics Show)  a new policy on self-driving cars that largely allows companies to take the wheel on advancing autonomous vehicle technology with limited intervention from the government. “It should not be the role of the federal government to pick winners or losers,” she said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios warned federal agencies against over-regulating companies developing artificial intelligence during a pair of appearances. He touted a series of AI principles that the White House released earlier this week that stipulate the government should ensure AI is safe and unbiased but engage with industry in any rules it develops to ensure that.

“If we’re too heavy-handed with artificial intelligence, we end up stifling entire industries, and we want to make sure to foster the generation in the United States,” Kratsios said during a conference event hosted by Wired.

The industry-friendly announcements and officials’ optimistic focus on the promise of innovation stood in sharp contrast with much of President Trump’s typical rhetoric about Silicon Valley. Though the president is known for his attacks and threats of regulation on individual companies, tech companies stand to greatly benefit from the laissez-faire strategy on display at the conference as they invest heavily in artificial intelligence and self-driving cars.

Amazon, one of the companies that has been most aggressively targeted by Trump, praised the White House’s AI principles in a statement Wednesday. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)


The self-driving car policy drew applause from industry as well. The policy aims to get 38 different federal agencies to work together to ensure the U.S. government creates a climate where American companies can stay ahead of international rivals in self-driving cars.

Gary Shapiro, the president and chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association that represents many large tech giants, said the policy “is proof government is prioritizing the adoption of self-driving technology.”

But the White House’s hands-off approach could prove controversial amid greater debate in Washington about the tech industry’s unchecked rise in power and calls for greater consumer protection.

The autonomous vehicle policy sought to place an emphasis on safety, but offered little in the way of specifics about how federal agencies would ensure that.

And companies have already been aggressively rolling out test vehicles on the road. Federal investigators called for the government to do more to ensure self-driving vehicles being tested on the road are safe following the investigation of a fatal crash involving an autonomous Uber vehicle in Arizona.

National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said yesterday that the new policy did not address those concerns.

“It’s very light on content,” she said. “They say safety is their priority and that’s fantastic, but they don’t back that up.”