This question originally appeared on Quora, the best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
Answer by Jon Davis, writer and blogger on military, veterans, and Middle Eastern affairs:
A gun cannot solve the problems of a hammer, nor can a hammer heal a child's hunger.
Technology goes through phases. A new technology will make itself available that will change the world. From it, thousands of new technologies, innovations, and even changes in the very way society is structured take place. This happened when the first empire was able to control both mines that produced tin and those that held copper—thereby propelling the world into the Bronze Age. This caused many great problems, solved many others, and left most other concerns completely unchanged. There is simply nothing bronze armor can do against an attack by bacterial infection. It can, however, forge stronger, more cohesive societies and offer its people a more lasting peace and better opportunity to prosper, in hopes of better days to come.
That is where we are today. Surely, one would consider the advent of computer technology and the connecting of the planet at the speed of light to be the dawn of a new age as revolutionary as those built from the passage of the Stone Age to the Bronze, Bronze to Iron, or of the ages of kings to the assembly line. Right now, we are only starting to discover the potential of computing technology, and this surge of new innovations will continue, as well as innovations built upon them, like Facebook and Angry Birds, probably for a long healthy time. During that time, many, many problems will be completely dissolved. Who can remember how we lived when we didn't have cellphones in our pockets, and all of the people we needed within seconds of our reach, or how lost we feel when the battery dies?
That said, no one has ever been fed by a phone, not directly anyway. Connections have been made that have put those with the ability to produce food, or medicine, or just comfort and joy with those who have the means and desire for it. It is a better world that we live in since the dawn of the information age, but one that still has problems that the simple blipping of 1's and 0's cannot solve. What is interesting, though, is that by directing our most talented and most ambitious individuals toward solving problems where solutions are abundant, we see solutions evolving where there used to be none. Put those same people in roles of helping those suffering directly and they wouldn't be able to help many, maybe only a handful at best. Put them, however, in engineering roles, and they have made the way easier, far easier, for others to do far more in their stead.
For example, had Bill Gates began his work first in Africa, would it be possible for him to have helped so many people? I'm not saying that he would have not made huge contributions compared with any other man, but if not for the company Microsoft's existence, would the world have progressed to the point that so many could give so much because of his contributions there? Seriously consider how many businesses run on Windows and think about it. Bill Gates did far more for mankind by spending a few decades becoming a powerful computer entrepreneur than he could have ever done just being a member of the Peace Corps.
For now, we must seek to do what we can with what is available to us, progress as far as we can with the intent of minimizing harm. We must also embrace the luxuries that rise up from time to time and watch the directions they grow. In time, whether a few years, or thousands, the technology will grow around us organically, reducing the barriers to aid others to rubble and questions like this will be relics of darker ages.
More questions on Quora: