Saudi Arabia is building a half-a-trillion-dollar robot city

Saudi Arabia is building a half-a-trillion-dollar robot city

In the race to build the city of the future, numerous countries are looking to seize the opportunity and leave the United States behind. China, particularly, is the image of the grand cityscape of the Sino-futurist imagination, the science fiction present in Neuromancer, Blade Runner, and other classics about techno-cities of the future. Once the US dollar is no longer the main mode of financial transaction worldwide, the Chinese will easily take the first place mantle. Now, Saudi Arabia also wants a slice of the pie.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is invested in creating a science fiction city called "Neom", which would b the size of Massachusetts, (!) running along the Egyptian and Jordan borders of the country. Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive and abusive theocracies on Earth, imagines Neom being an “idyllic society that promotes inclusion and encourages personal growth and lives by world-class social norms.” Hmn...

The city wishes to combine technological progress (AI and automation) with “untouched beaches and pristine coastline", as well as education, Michelin-star restaurants, biotechnology (human manufacturing, additional machine 'parts' in our bodies) and solar panels. There would, ideally, be more robots in the city than humans. It'll be a strange place indeed.

Credit: Getty

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is actively seeking investors, and thus far has $500 billion guaranteed to fund the robot city of Neom. The metropolis would also present a chance for Saudi Arabia to move away from its dependence on an oil economy. Salman claims to wish to return Saudi Arabia to "moderate Islam", but it is unclear if the beheadings and shadow wars will stop.

The frightening part of Neom is that it will be "independent of the kingdom’s existing governmental framework, excluding sovereignty." What that means is simple: the companies investing in Neom will own Neom. Essentially, it will be Silicon Valley: the city, with all the horrors of rule by Amazon Prime that come with it. We may be seeing a technocracy on the level of some dystopian Ayn Rand novel, an entire city owned and operated by a CEO-in-chief, total authoritarianism.

Credit: Getty

What do you think of this robot city? On one hand, it looks to be an excellent opportunity for the Saudi royalty. On the other, creating a corporate city-state inside a repressive theocratic monarchy sounds intensely dystopian. Like, seriously bad. Either you pay fealty to the king, or to the CEO. Where is human freedom?

The genre of science fiction is also just kind of depleted. We can already imagine virtual reality, I Robot, artificial intelligence, all the works. It's just routine now. If such a world became true, would it really afford anything new? Or just be a new cage, mental and virtual instead of physical? Data farms feasting on your information, algorithms knowing more about you than you know about yourself?

We'll have to answer the question, sooner rather than later: do we choose freedom or convenience? I don't know what we'll choose, but a robot city may lead to a spike in depression. Don't get microchipped.