“They’ll fly drone taxis to work while robots clean their homes. Their city will supplant Silicon Valley in technology, Hollywood in entertainment and the French Riviera as a place to vacation. It will host a genetic-modification project to make people stronger.”
– Maz M. Hussain on Twitter
The City of the Future is Now! Or, at least, coming soon, if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia – Mohammed bin Salman for short or MbS for even shorter – has his way.
The young prince (born August 31, 1985) and infamous totalitarian human rights abuser serve as the country’s deputy prime minister under the king’s ministry. He also chairs the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, the Council of Political and Security Affairs, and is the nation’s defense minister.
The son of King Salman was appointed crown prince in June 2017 and has since demonstrated to the world his support of progressive policies and forward-thinking economic development. Among his reforms are enacting regulations that limit the powers of the religious police, lifting the ban on female drivers on June 2018, and weakening the male-guardianship system in August 2019, allowing Saudi women over 21 to obtain passports and travel abroad without male guardian permission, register marriages, and other legal documents, and be eligible for legal custody of a child.
MBS announced a program called Vision 2030 to exploit industry sectors outside of petroleum, including tech and tourism. The Crown Prince cleverly combined the two in 2017 by commissioning experts from three firms – Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Co., and Oliver Wyman. The triumvirate delivered its completed plans for a “Jetsons’ style” futuristic metropolis in September 2018.
The city will be called Neom, a combination of the Greek word for “new” and the Arabic word for “future.” Building the new city-state in the middle of nowhere near a town called Sharma, covering 10,000 square miles on an expansive stretch of mostly-deserted coastline in northern Saudi Arabia is projected to cost $500 billion.
MBS only has $10 billion to his royal name so he is appealing to investors to pony up the rest of the riyals needed to realize his dream-come-true mini-kingdom, a planned community, and uber-resort, all run by smart robots.
Marketing literature to promote the ambitious (some say lunatic) construction project says that Neom is being designed to draw the “‘world’s greatest minds and best talents’ to the world’s best-paying jobs in the world’s most livable city.”
The trio of consultants provided their “list of ridiculous recommendations” more suitable perhaps to a nine-year-old (as one observer quipped) to the Wall Street Journal which published some of them, including:
- Flying Taxis: Forget other ground-based transportation. Planning documents read, “Driving is just for fun, no longer for transportation (for example, driving in a Ferrari next to the coast with a nice view).”
- Cloud Seeding: To induce artificial rain and make the desert stop feeling like a desert.
- Robot Maids: Do we need to say more except that the planning documents keep referring to the workers as “scientists” – doesn’t anybody else get to live in Orbit City – Neom, that is?
- State-of-the-Art Medical Facilities: This plan goes well beyond laser surgery and such as the scientists living in Neom “would work on a project to modify the human genome to make people stronger.”
- World-Class Restaurants: Hey, a scientist has got to eat. Why not go gourmet with the promised “highest rate of Michelin-starred restaurants per inhabitant?”
- Dinosaur Robots: Because, for billions of dollars, we simply must have “a Jurassic Park-style island of robot reptiles,” right?
- Glow-in-the-Dark Sand: Like a luminous watch-face. “I want the sand to glow,” said MbS, referring to an area called Silver Beach.
- Alcohol: Although famously prohibited throughout Arabic lands, Neom will be the exception to the rule, according to insiders familiar with the plan.
- Robot Martial Arts: For entertainment, robots who aren’t programmed to tidy up the Jetsonesque SkyPad homestead apartment will go head to head in a sporting “Robo-cage fight.”
- 2nd Moon: Shine on, artificial moon. Each and every night, a constant second moon “could live-stream images from outer space, acting as an iconic landmark.” Do you suppose the artificial satellite will be programmed to go through phases?
- Hologram Faculty: Schools will feature the best instructors technology can reproduce as further incentive to entice the world’s best-of-the-best to move into the Saudi version of Futurama.
Other sobering features of the city planned by the junior Arabian ruler who “reportedly ordered the kidnapping and brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and whose military has been accused of atrocities in Yemen.” Among them are:
- Security: On the drawing board is comprehensive residential surveillance using drones and facial recognition gear. (Did the Jetsons have biometric scanners?) “This should be an automated city where we can watch everything…where a computer can notify crimes without having to report them or where all citizens can be tracked,” stated the founding board of Neom in the founding documents.
- Population by Force: Another more sinister detail is that Neom will be populated initially from the forcible relocation of over 20,000 people.
Would you volunteer to move “back to 1984” – to Neom?