Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.


Humanity has been developing new technologies at a breakneck speed but have they delivered enough clear benefits to how long and well we live? Much of the tech seems to be adding even more stress, designed to both help us cope and entrap us further in the hectic demands of modern life. But what if you could start from scratch and create the kind of society where the best of technology would utilize the best ideas in robotics, healthcare, energy generation and government? Such is the utopian promise of the $500 billion futuristic city-state Neom, being built in Saudi Arabia.

"This is the blank page you need to write humanity's next chapter," promises the commercial for the city on the Neom homepage.

The American consultants, hired by the city's developers came up with a 2,300 page proposal that wants to make Neom largely run by robots, with eye-catchy features based in part on tech that doesn't yet exist. Some of the fun things the city would have are flying taxis, glow-in-the-dark sand, cloud seeding to make it rain in the desert, robotic maids, MMA-style robot cage fights, and, of course, a Jurassic-Park-like island, replete with robot dinosaurs.

Perhaps, most curious of all, Neom would have a gigantic artificial moon, made from a fleet of drones, which would not only light up every night, but could live-stream images straight from outer space.

Run on wind and solar energy, the city would also be a state-of-the-art center for technological and medical innovation, spearheading genetic engineering efforts to improve the human body.

Being a beacon of progress, where many citizens would work in startups while being educated in innovative ways like holographic faculties, would make the economy of Neom robust. In fact, it would have "the highest GDP per capita," according to the proposal.

The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:

Neom is the shortened version of the Latin-Arabic term "Neo-Mustaqbal", which means "new future." How far in the future? The project's first phase is already complete and the second phase will be announced by the year's end, recently promised Neom's CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr at the site of the city's first commercial airport Gayal.

The first phase involved the conceptualizing of the economic, funding and development plans for Neom. Actual construction also began on the airport and a resort. Phase two should result in fleshing out further details of "what Neom is going to be," Al-Nasr stated to Arab News.

"Neom is all about things that are necessarily future-oriented and visionary," Al-Nasr wrote. "So we are talking about technology that is cutting edge and beyond—and in some cases still in development and maybe theoretical."

Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)

The project was introduced in 2017 by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It is planned to include 450km of Red Sea coastline, which would make it a major vacation destination – 8 hours away flying from anywhere in the world, as calculated the consultants. Neom will span a total area of 26,500 square km across three countries, including territory from North-Western Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

The city itself will be "the world's first independent international zone," presents its marketing literature. How independent it will actually be remains to be seen. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia set up a "special authority," chaired by the Crown Prince himself, to supervise the development of the project. Once its built, the zone will be managed via a "regulatory framework that will adopt world-class investment laws to support residents and targeted economic sectors," declares its presentation, which also purports the city-state will have an "autonomous judicial system." Its laws, enforced by city-wide automation and tracking of its citizens, would be independent of Saudi Arabia's, created by a slate of both local and foreign investors "in accordance with international best practice."

If you're still wondering if the megacity would be subject to the Muslim Kingdom's societal practices, Neom claims it will utilize the best practices from around the world that can improve the lives of its residents.

The reality may be quite different, however, as the Wall Street Journal's review of the documents from the consultants found that the judges of Neom would be reporting directly to the king, while Sharia law would still be the law of the land. The one big exception might be alcohol, which supposedly would be allowed.

How long will the project take? The overall timeline estimates 7-10 years from now. The plan certainly has its detractors and possible human-rights issues, like the plan for the forced relocation of more than 20,000 people indigenous to the area.

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