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Inventor Regrets: What Comic Sans, the K-Cup, And The Atomic Bomb Have In Common

Photo courtesy of Mark Ordonez via Flickr

Many inventions, brilliant or otherwise, take on a life of their own after conception.

These creations, typically born of good-will and ingenuity, have lead to usage and consequences unintended by their humble inventors.

Not unlike Doctor Frankenstein and his monster, inventors throughout history have dealt with sleepless nights due to the events that unfolded after their creations’ geneses. The reasons come in all shapes, but the sentiment is the same: If they hadn’t opened Pandora’s box, would we all be better off?

Inventor regrets of virality: Flappy Bird, Comic Sans, and glitter attacks

A simple idea, however small, can blow up and gain an unsavory reputation or unintended difficulties.

Take the most hated font, Comic Sans, for example. Vincent Connare had no idea in 1994 what a plague it would become; the trademark text for passive aggressive office notes, unprofessional car washing flyers, and AOL Instant Messenger away messages.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Connare now cringes when he sees its manifestation, and admits that those who love the font know nothing about typography — but that those who hate it should get another hobby.

And speaking of hobbies, let’s talk Flappy Bird, the addictive mobile game, which — 50 million downloads and buckets of money after its release — became a nightmare for its inventor, Dong Nguyen.

The app allegedly ruined Nguyen’s simple life, causing him to remove the app from all stores because, he, as he states it he “could not take it anymore.”

And speaking of nightmares, the creator of the “ship glitter to your enemies” website, Matt Carpenter, regretted its popularity shortly following its literal and metaphorical explosion. After its popularity crashed his website, he pleaded with the masses to “please stop buying this horrible glitter product — I’m sick of dealing with it.”

Good inventions gone bad: K-Cups, labradoodles, and cubicles

Good things can come in small and dangerous packages. When a seemingly benign creation turns out to have harmful qualities in practice, it stings for the creator to come to terms with their responsibility.

Most recently, John Sylven, inventor of the K-Cup, came out saying “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.” But, why, when coffee brings such joy and efficiency to people across the world?

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As it turns out, the immensely popular coffee pods are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, the discarded of which could wrap around the world 12 times.

Similarly, Wally Conron, who invented the adorable labradoodle breed to provide for a blind woman whose husband was allergic to dog hair, feels that he has done a lot of damage. Not because labradoodles are monsters, but because the business that emerged around the “designer dog” has become the source of unethical breeding, health issues, greed and deception.

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Of the labradoodle, Conron says “I’ve done so much harm to pure breeding and made so many charlatans quite rich. I wonder, in my retirement, whether we bred a designer dog – or a disaster!”

Another seemingly innocent creation — the cubicle — has since been denounced by its inventor Bob Prost, who stated that “the cubiclizing of people in modern corporations is monolithic insanity.”

Should have seen it coming: AK-17s, dynamite, and the atomic bomb

Imagine being responsible for the creation of a weapon responsible for taking millions of lives.

Some weapon-creators express guilt and regret, understandably, when their work culminates in mass loss of life. One of the most keen examples of this is Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian inventor of the AK-47 whose weapon has killed more people than any other gun.

The burden of this knowledge was such that he penned a letter expressing his unbearable spiritual pain, asking “If my rifle deprived people of life then can it be that I…a Christian and an orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?”

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We also have Alfred Nobel (yes, ironically, of Nobel Peace fame), whose invention of dynamite (for mining and defense purposes) posed dangerous implications. After his obituary was accidentally published calling him the “Merchant of Death,” Nobel donated over 90 percent of his fortune to the institution of annual Nobel Prizes, presumably due to regret over his invention, reputation, or both.

Lastly, perhaps no regrets are greater than those of the minds behind the atomic bomb. Albert Einstein, whose research made the bomb possible, regretted most of all sending and signing a letter to Roosevelt encouraging its research.

The bomb’s inventor, Robert Oppenheimer, expressed remorse as well, later advocating for the ban of nuclear weapons and telling President Truman that he felt he had “blood on his hands.”

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert