Neom, the new Saudi California?

We imagined that in the future it would be written in Japanese, Chinese or Silicon Valley offices. But Saudi Arabia is providing itself with financial, humanitarian and logistical means to innovate the world of tomorrow. While this has many advantages, some weaknesses remain.

It was the technology event of the beginning of the year: In early February, “LEAP” was held in Saudi Arabia, bringing together more than a thousand start-ups from around the world in Riyadh, most of which housed the most promising technologies of the future, such as artificial intelligence or connected objects. Faced with their innovations in front of investors’ judges, some instantly made huge financing ranging from 100 100 to ,000 300,000.

The organization of this major event in Riyadh owes nothing to the opportunity: the Saudi capital wants to be at the forefront of the technological revolution, “Prosperous, inclusive and sustainable According to Fahad Al-Rashid, Director General of the Royal Commission in Riyadh.

Because for the state, this show is challenging enough. In early 2016, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) unveiled his famous “Vision 2030” economic development program, aimed at accelerating the transition from an economy based on oil revenues to an industry based on digital technology.

In fact, thanks to foreign and Saudi investment, the Kingdom’s high-tech industry is already valued at 33 33 billion a year, with an ambition to reach 50 billion in five years, and has already hired more than 300,000 professionals locally.

Initiatives that not only align with the strategic vision of Vision 2030, but with a specific focus: NEOM. A neologism that means “new future” and that comes from NEO (” New In Latin) and m, the first letter of the Arabic word mustaqbal which means ” The future

Built on yesterday’s Silicon Valley sand

NEOM is the city of this 500 500 billion future project, the first phase of which must be completed by 2030. Ideally, for state leaders, this inauguration would coincide with the opening of a public exhibition that must be that year and for which Saudi Arabia is a candidate and a favorite. A big challenge for the Saudis who want to surpass their Emirati neighbors and rivals who made a strong impression in 2020 through their public exhibition in Dubai.

NEOM should therefore be the summary of this “all high-tech” economic model, consistent with the unequal ambitions of the ruling family. Located north of the Red Sea, with maritime access, it should extend to parts of Jordan and be directly connected to Egypt. Total 26,000 km2That’s 30 times the size of New York … As part of the Vision 2030 strategic plan, the project aims to deeply transform Saudi Arabia’s economy. The first objective is to attract international talent and sophisticated technology companies. So the whole city will be a free zone, funded by the oil storm and the recent partial privatization of the national oil company Aramco.

Town planning will be the most modern smart city possible: self-sufficient water use, renewable energy, sustainable development type city planning (components, optimized energy transmission, etc.). New mobility (autonomous and non-polluting) and of course not forgetting comfort and well-being: optimal healthcare, biotechnology, urban agriculture …

A new “way of life” based on technology … and values

If the Saudis are to be believed, the inhabitants of this cosmopolitan and highly selective city of the future must have the highest standard of living in the world and enjoy an unparalleled standard of living.

But beyond the massive investment, the regime seems to be ready to embark on a particular liberalization of morality, a prerequisite for the settlement of expatriates from all over the world. So the regime plans to establish a specific justice system with specific laws to reassure newcomers and investors, such as the Japanese softbank.

In fact, the project seems to be considered a clever way to get rid of NEOM, even if its success is still uncertain. ” Everyone knows that digital will be the heart of the dynamics of the future and all industries want to capture it as soon as possible. Steven Frantzen, vice-president of IDC, an analytical and consulting firm, said on the sidelines of an international conference on future technology in Riyadh at the end of March. ” But being digital doesn’t mean choosing one technology over another, one business model over another. Thanks to these technologies, common aspirations, shared values ​​and working methods adapted to the post-Covid world. “It simply came to our notice then.

Michelle Kitarev

Speaker scale-up booster

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