Leaked Documents Reveal Saudi Arabia’s Plans For Its Next Megacity

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: A new report from The Wall Street Journal shares some of the proposals for Saudi Arabia’s biggest megaproject yet: a city built in the desert named Neom, where robots will outnumber humans and hologram teachers will educate genetically-enhanced students. These are only proposals, of course, dreamt up by American consulting firms like McKinsey and Boston Consulting who have no incentive to bring Saudi leaders down to Earth. But all the same, they give you a flavor of what trillions of dollars of oil wealth will do to your sense of proportion.

The whole Neom project is undeniably fascinating. It was first announced in 2017, with Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying he wants the city to attract the “world’s greatest minds and best talents.” According to planning documents reported by the WSJ, bin Salman “envisions Neom the largest city globally by GDP, and wanted to understand what he can get with up to 500 billion USD investment.” The project is the flagpole of Saudi Arabia’s plans to diversify the country’s economy away from oil. MBS and other Saudi leaders known this source of revenue can’t last forever, and they’re keen to develop cities like Neom as new commercial hubs. As currently planned, Neom will occupy a region the size of Massachusetts. This will include a huge coastal urban sprawl; outlying towns and villages; advance manufacturing hubs in industries like biotech and robotics; and links with international shipping routes. Early building work has already begun, with facilities including a new airport and palace. Some of the key features of the city include cloud seeding to make it rain, dystopian surveillance to keep citizens safe, genetic engineering to increase human strength and IQ, robot cage fights and “maids,” flying taxis, and even a fake moon that could perhaps be created by a fleet of drones or via live-streaming images from space.

The report notes that it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Neom will live up to its planners’ dreams. What may hinder its success is Saudi Arabia’s corruption, difficult legal system, and unappealing social norms. “Alcohol is banned; women’s rights are restricted; and homosexuality is illegal,” the report notes. There’s also the sweltering weather that’ll only get worse with climate change.

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