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This sci-fi city is like Blade Runner meets Gattaca — and it’s actually happening

By Elizabeth Rayne
Blade Runner

Flying cars. Robot maids. Glow-in-the-dark sand. An artificial moon. Robotic dinosaurs (really). No, this isn’t a scene from Blade Runner (above), but the hyper-futuristic city of Neom, and it’s actually happening.

It’s a vision that sounds like it just leapt out of a cinematic future. The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed a mind-blowing 2,300 pages of classified documents from consultants planning out the $500 billion city in Saudi Arabia with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, otherwise knows as MBS. It seemed like the most epic science fiction movie come to life, until further investigation of the documents raised ethical concerns among all those bright lights.

Think of Neom as Dubai on steroids. Per WSJ, the documents stated that it will be built from scratch, not as an enhancement to an existing city, to “ensure the availability of best services with social limitations,” as MBS said.

The promise of a city that will offer the plushest existence on Earth shines so brightly that its glare distracts from a harsh truth. According to the report, about 20,000 people from local tribes will be forced to relocate just to build this behemoth.

“Relocating residents in the interest of public works projects is not uncommon in the Kingdom” was the response in the documents.

Another feature that has earned its fair share of scrutiny? The city’s surveillance. It will be swarming with drones, cameras, and facial-recognition software that will monitor citizens’ every move. That Neom “should be an automated city where we can watch everything, where a computer can notify crimes without having to report them or where all citizens can be tracked" is another aspect of the upcoming megalopolis that WSJ uncovered.

Now comes the Gattaca part of this controversial undertaking. Neom will have human gene-editing clinics that go beyond just corrective treatments, to enhance human strength and IQ — as much like the end goal of Elon Musk’s Neuralink. (Musk is just one of the moguls being tapped to give the project an assist.)

While construction has started on Neom, there are concerns that not all of its technology (which Neom chief executive Nadhmi al Nasr told WSJ “is cutting edge and beyond —  and in some cases still in development and maybe theoretical”) can ever make it out of science fiction.

Some scientific and technological aspects of Neom still raise lots of questions. Sure, there are plans for cloud seeding, which artificially creates rain to quench a place stranded in the middle of the desert. On the other hand, there are safety issues with creating sand that actually glows in the dark. Schools, meanwhile, are supposed to have hologram faculty, except legit 3D holograms haven’t even been invented yet.

Electric playland of the future or not? You decide.

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