A few minutes every morning is all you need.
Stay up to date on the world's Headlines and Human Stories. It's fun, it's factual, it's fluff-free.
Back in 2021, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS) announced plans for something called "The Line." The idea is for it to be a megacity region housing up to 9 million people with no carbon emissions. At 170 kilometers long and half a kilometer high, but with a width of just 200 meters, its name is pretty telling.
With no cars, this city would operate using underground trains, electric air taxis, an artificial moon, glow-in-the-dark beaches – you know, the usual. And Saudi Arabia is already pushing for it to be the international city of the future, housing a million people by 2030 and up to 9 million by 2045.
The parent project for this city is called NEOM, and it's a bit of a controversial development. NEOM is meant to be a region of smart towns and cities, ports and enterprise areas, research centers, sports and entertainment venues and tourist centers. Initially, the project was expected to cost about US$500 billion and was ambitiously set to finish in 2030.
The Line will feature a 100-mile-long "vertical sky scraper" built in the northwest part of the country, in the middle of the desert. And it's supposed to be a model of sustainability. In total, NEOM will cover about 26,500 square kilometers.
What's the motivation for building this, you ask? The investment is part of MBS's broader plan to modernize Saudi Arabia and decrease the economy's reliance on fossil fuels.
Even though development has already started, it's not visible through satellite image providers like Google Maps. According to Stephen Wood, senior director of Maxar's news bureau, "We do not have any recent high-resolution imagery that has been collected over these areas." But, according to satellite imagery obtained by MIT Technology Review, some parts of the project are already seeing some progress.
Now, the NEOM city project has started getting international attention for some not-so-positive aspects of its plans. For example, smart cities currently use about 10% of possible user data. But, NEOM will use AI and access 90% of possible user data, according to city planners.
"NEOM is designed to leapfrog those [other smart cities], to begin from the ground up in sort of an entirely designed fashion to collect data and use that data for the purposes of the city," James Shires, a researcher at London's Chatham House think tank, told Insider.
All in all, it sounds really high-tech and futuristic. But some critics say the project has a darker intention aligned with MBS' political aims.
"It's a ticket for him to enshrine himself as the Saudi leader that modernized the country and usher it into a new technological era," said Marwa Fatafta, a policy manager at Access Now, a German digital rights organization to Insider.
She warns that alongside all the shiny bells and whistles this high-tech city offers, its "smart" features could be used for other aims, like surveillance and data collection on residents.