James Novogrod / NBC News
Dlshad Othman, a Syrian Kurd living in Washington, D.C., developed an online monitoring program that warns Syrian civilians of purported government missile attacks. He participated in a conference held by Google during the week of Oct. 21, in New York.
As Dlshad Othman, a 27-year-old software engineer and Internet activist, addressed a crowd of technologists in a downtown New York hotel Monday, the phone in his pocket was collecting urgent alerts from a world away, in his native Syria.
The automated emails were sent by a website that tracks the trajectory of Scud missiles fired from the outskirts of Damascus toward rebel-held areas in the north of the country.
A spotter near Damascus had detected an apparent missile overhead, and had alerted the website. The website is Othman’s own invention; its technology tracks when a missile is fired, and -- using a formula involving trajectory and speed -- calculates a likely landing point. Then it sends warnings to subscribers to seek shelter.
"I finished with the panel and I had messages about a missile," Othman said during an interview Tuesday, seated in a bright hotel atrium overlooking Manhattan's Financial District.
Othman was in New York for a two-day summit hosted by Google, where leading experts on technology and its intersection with modern warfare gathered for panel events and so-called "lab” lunches -- where participants swapped ideas over sandwiches, boxed salads and quinoa
The summit drew from a variety of communities, including business and media.