Updated October 12, noon EST, to reflect additional advisors who have dropped out of the project.
Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plan for a megacity in the desert, NEOM, fits with the kingdom’s recent high-profile shift toward a more tech-based economy. The brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, NEOM is a proposed development along the country’s Red Sea coast and would cover 10,000 square miles and cost a reported $500 billion.
On Tuesday, the project released a list of 18 advisors selected to assist with the creation of the new smart city from scratch. Announced on NEOM’s Twitter feed, it contains high-profile names from the worlds of urbanism, technology, design, and architecture.
#NEOM forms its global Advisory Board that consists of prestigious global experts from diverse sectors, as they will directly contribute in shaping NEOM”s #future as well as offering ideas, insights and advice to realize NEOM’s dream. pic.twitter.com/fwDzzyso1Q— NEOM (@discoverneom) October 9, 2018
The advisory board initially included:
- Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator and the co-chair of OpenAI (who has since dropped out)
- Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz
- Tim Brown, CEO and president of design consultancy IDEO (who has since dropped out)
- Dan Doctoroff, founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs (who has since dropped out)
- Norman Robert Foster, founder and CEO of Foster + Partners
- Travis Kalanick, former Uber CEO and current CEO of City Storage Systems
- Marc Raibert, a former Carnegie Mellon University professor and a founder of robotics firm Boston Dynamics
- Carlo Ratti, a professor of Urban Technologies and Planning, and director of SENSEable City Lab
- John Rossant, founder and chairman of the NewCities Foundation
- Masayoshi Son, chief executive officer of Japanese holding conglomerate SoftBank
This announcement comes during the same week the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi—who entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and has not been seen or heard from since—has raised serious questions about whether or not the Saudi government may have attempted to apprehend or kill Khashoggi.
The Turkish government just released a list of members of the Saudi security force who entered and left the country around the date of Khashoggi’s disappearance, and CNN reports that U.S. intelligence intercepted communications between Saudi officials discussing a plan to “lure journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him.”
In response to potential Saudi involvement, some media figures have pulled out of Saudi-sponsored events, or are under pressure not to participate. The New York Times announced that it would not be participating as a media sponsor of the upcoming Future Investment Initiative, the so-called “Davos in the Desert” summit being held October 23-25 at the same Riyadh Ritz-Carlton hotel in which dozens of wealthy Saudis were jailed last fall in what Bin Salman called an anti-corruption campaign.
Since the initial release of the list of NEOM advisors, Dan Doctoroff and Ernest Moriz, a former U.S. Secretary of Energy, have each dropped out of the project. Business Insider has reached out to the remaining members of the council, who haven’t yet responded to requests for more information.
Promotional materials for the NEOM project distributed by the Royal Court describe it as “a leading global hub that exemplifies the future of human civilization by offering its inhabitants an idyllic lifestyle combined with exceptional economic prospects.”