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$500B Smart City Under Construction Could Change The Course Of Human History

Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Late last year Saudi Arabia announced it would build a new smart city in the northwest corner of the country.

Called Neom and costing $500B, the project is wildly ambitious and, based on some of the claims the Saudi government has made for it, it could change the course of human history.

Here’s everything you need to know.

The city

Neom will cover an area of 10,200 square miles, a quarter of the size of New York State. It will be in the desert on the borders of Saudi, Egypt and Jordan, and be something of a supranational entity — it will have its own tax, labor laws and legal system, although it will be protected by the Saudi military and subject to Saudi foreign policy.

The climate

Although the city’s website claims the temperature in the area in which it will be built is 10 degrees Celsius/18 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the Gulf average, it can still reach 50 degrees Celsius/122 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Saudi desert


Construction work has begun, the Saudi government said, with the first phase scheduled to complete by 2025. The cost will be funded by Saudi’s new sovereign wealth fund, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, which will include money from the sale of part of the country’s state-owned oil company Aramco. Former Siemens Chief Executive Klaus Kleinfeld is leading the project.

What is the goal?

“Neom is positioned to become an aspirational society that heralds the future of human civilization by offering its inhabitants an idyllic lifestyle set against a backdrop of a community founded on modern architecture, lush green spaces, quality of life, safety, and technology in the service of humanity paired with excellent economic opportunities,” according to its website.

Saudia Arabia said it wants the city to be a hub for the future of energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technological and digital sciences, advanced manufacturing and media production.

It is making some huge claims in those areas, like reducing world hunger and thirst by developing technology to allow farming in deserts and easily convert seawater to fresh.


While the desert location will make some elements of life in Neom tricky, it will give it access to abundant solar electricity. Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman said at a conference announcing the project that building a city from scratch allowed it to be 100% powered by renewable energy.

A Knightscope K5 Autonomous Data Machine

Technology and data

Building a city from scratch also allows smart technology to be embedded into its fabric rather than simply bolted on. It is envisaged that robots will undertake many of the manual labor tasks in Neom, such as cleaning or security. Sensors will allow the collection of data that enables the city to constantly monitor how people use it and evolve accordingly.

CORRECTION, JAN. 5, 10:50 A.M. ET: This article originally stated that Neom is twice the size of New York State. It is around a quarter of the size of New York State.