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Saudi smart city project names tech board members amid Khashoggi controversy

The announcement comes days after a journalist was possibly killed in a Saudi consulate in Turkey.


Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son is part of NEOM's advisory board. 

Stephen Shankland/CNET

A $500 billion Saudi smart city project on Tuesday named multiple US tech leaders to its advisory board even as the country faces controversy over the alleged death of a Saudi journalist.

The project, called NEOM, plans to build a futuristic cross-border city based on smart technology. Members of its advisory board, according to a post on NEOM's verified Twitter account, included top executives from the tech industry in the US, including Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen, co-chair of OpenAI Sam Altman, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, CEO of Alphabet's subsidiary Sidewalk Labs Dan Doctoroff, former Dow Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris and more.

Saudi news outlet Argaam on Tuesday initially published a 19-member list of the NEOM advisory board that included Apple Design Chief Jony Ive's name, according to Business Insider. But Apple late Tuesday said Ive's inclusion on the list was a mistake, and he has nothing to do with the project. And NEOM's tweets didn't list him. Tim Brown, the CEO of consulting firm IDEO was previously listed as a board member, but his company said Thursday he's not associated with the project.

The announcement came days after Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi dissident and critic of the Saudi government, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, according to the New York Times. Turkish investigators reportedly said that a team of 15 Saudi agents killed him inside the consulate. The Saudi government has reportedly denied the murder.

Saudi Arabia has been building relationships in the technology industry, particularly through its partnership with Japanese telecom giant SoftBank. The company invested nearly half the money needed for SoftBank's $100 billion Vision Fund, which has changed the traditional funding model for startups since it launched last year. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week told Bloomberg News that he planned to invest another $45 billion in a second SoftBank fund. Other investors in the original fund included Apple and Qualcomm.

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son is also a member of NEOM's advisory board. 

Here's the complete list of advisors for NEOM:

  • Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator and the co-chair of OpenAI
  • Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz
  • Timothy Collins, vice chairman and CEO of Ripplewood Advisors
  • Alexandra Cousteau, a senior advisor to Oceana
  • Dan Doctoroff, founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs
  • Norman Robert Foster, founder and CEO of Foster + Partners
  • Jean Fréchet, a chemistry professor
  • Travis Kalanick, CEO of City Storage Systems
  • Neelie Kroes, a retired Dutch politician and vice-president of the European Commission
  • Andrew N. Liveris, former CEO and chairman of Dow Chemical Company
  • Ernest Moniz, founder of Energy Futures Initiative
  • Marc Raibert, a former Carnegie Mellon University professor and a founder of Boston Dynamics
  • Carlo Ratti, a professor of Urban Technologies and Planning, and director of SENSEable City Lab
  • John Rossant, founder and chairman of the New Cities Foundation
  • Masayoshi Son, a Japanese business magnate and chief executive officer of Japanese holding conglomerate SoftBank
  • Rob Speyer, Tishman Speyer president and chief executive officer
  • Peter Voser, chairman of ABB.

CNET's Shara Tibken contributed to this report. 

First published Oct. 9, 3:30 p.m. PT.
Update, 7:33 p.m.: Adds Apple comment that Jony Ive was not involved with NEOM and updates throughout. Also updates with the correct name for the chemistry professor on the board.

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