Want to live in a city featuring drone taxis, A.I. maids, glow-in-the-dark beaches, artificial rain, robot dinosaurs, and a genetic engineering program to create stronger citizens, all illuminated at night by a giant artificial moon? Sure, it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen straight out of a Michael Crichton techno-thriller, but it’s actually a real plan developed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Called Neom (a mix of the Greek word for “new” and Arabic word for “future”), the project aims to construct a $500 billion smart city, covering 10,000 squares miles of coastline and desert in northwest Saudi Arabia. With its mixture of high-tech amenities and luxury services like restaurants and shops, the goal is to build what the Wall Street Journal describes as a superior to “Silicon Valley in technology, Hollywood in entertainment and the French Riviera as a place to vacation.” Hey, how many robot dinosaurs do you come into contact within any of those places?
“Neom is all about things that are necessarily future-oriented and visionary,” Neom chief executive Nadhmi al Nasr recently told the WSJ. “So we are talking about technology that is cutting edge and beyond — and in some cases still in development and maybe theoretical.”
The project was first announced a couple of years back; the new report shares additional details, courtesy of 2,300 pages of planning documents. While it all makes Neom sound like a city straight out of sci-fi, there’s also plenty of potential for this science fiction to be more dystopia than Utopia. The documents mention forcible relocation of more than 20,000 locals, many whose families have lived in the area for generations. There’s also a huge amount of emphasis on 24/7 government surveillance, along with the risks inherent in things like gene-editing clinics.
How much of this will become reality? As the failure of previous concepts like robot-staffed hotels have demonstrated, high tech concepts don’t always work quite so well in the real world as they do in theory (a lesson that also harks back to the Crichton novels we mentioned.) Then again, when there’s no shortage of funding available, we’d hesitate to write anything off as an impossibility.
In other words, watch this space. But perhaps with a somewhat cautious eye.
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