Wishing to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on black gold and restore the somewhat damaged image of his country, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) announced in 2017 the creation of a $500 billion megalopolis, whose technological innovations will know no limits or bounds.
Characteristics of a pharaonic project
Nothing is too big for Neom: 26,000 km2, the area of the state of Massachusetts or 250 times that of Paris. Nothing is unachievable for Neom: built between the ocean, desert and mountains, cloud seeding is envisaged to generate rainfall. Nothing is too Utopian for Neom: the possibility of having an artificial moon. Nothing is too ambitious for Neom: the goal of being the leading city in the world in terms of GDP. Klaus Kleinfeld, who has been entrusted with management of the project, must carry out the mandate from MBS, namely to attract “the greatest minds and the best talents” of the world and maintain its world rank, despite certain differences and misunderstandings with the Western world (corruption, women’s rights, homosexuality, alcohol, etc.). Estimated at $500 billion, the Neom project is expected to be financed by the prince’s personal fortune, the Saudi government, as well as by regional and global investors, although MBS acknowledged a few days after the assassination of Jamal Kashoggi that “no one would invest in the project”. For now, the country can look forward to its first achievements, such as the Neom Bay airport – one of four planned – which had its first flight on June 30, 2019.
Technology central to the project
Neom will be based around 16 business sectors, identified by the project’s designers, that can create a sustainable economy and generate annual income of $100 billion. Whether it concerns energy, water, mobility, biotechnology, food, manufacturing, media, entertainment, culture and fashion, technology and computers, tourism, sports, construction, services, health and well-being or education, technological innovations will take a leading place. As evidence: energy will only be solar or wind power; travel will be by flying taxis (no roads or sidewalks); the internet will be high speed wireless and free; robots and androids will perform many tasks; thousands of cameras (fixed and on drones) will use facial recognition and artificial intelligence with the goal, we are assured, of providing a safe life; positive eugenics programs will be proposed to deserving citizens and students to improve their intellectual quotient; holographic teachers will lead courses, etc.
For ordinary mortals, it is hard to imagine the life offered by Neom, especially as there are many doubts and uncertainties regarding the feasibility of various projects. While some are entitled to worry about a city in which humans will be in the minority, others may already be wondering about a city which will have, according to MBS, its own labour, tax and justice legislation.