Innovation has long been celebrated as a driving force behind human progress, but what about those inventors who unexpectedly found themselves regretting their own creations? Behind the stories of groundbreaking inventions that changed the world lie a handful of inventors who, in hindsight, wished they could turn back time. We scoured biography pages, old interviews, and other online sources to come up with a list of 11 inventors who ultimately regretted their own creations.
From revolutionary technologies to everyday items, these inventors discovered the unexpected consequences of their creations, proving that even the most brilliant minds can sometimes experience a case of inventor’s remorse.
1. Alfred Nobel: Dynamite
Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist, and engineer, invented dynamite in 1867 while looking for a safer explosive to use in construction and mining, as the explosives that were in use were notoriously unstable and dangerous. In fact, Nobel’s brother Ludvig had died in a nitroglycerin explosion at a family-owned factory in 1864, and this event likely contributed to Nobel’s concern about the safety of explosives. The chemist was also a pacifist, and he naively thought that his creation would be used for peaceful purposes, such as building tunnels and bridges.
Little did he know, he created a weapon of destruction used mostly in warfare, causing death and devastation. Consequently, he was dubbed by the media “Angel of Death” and became deeply troubled by what his creation had done to humanity.
Nobel established the Nobel Prizes, including the Nobel Peace Prize, in an effort to promote peace and recognize scientific and cultural achievements that benefit humanity. He died in 1896, leaving much of his fortune to fund the Nobel Prizes.
2.John Sylvan: Keurig K-Cups
John Sylvan does not own a coffee machine. He sticks to the old-fashioned drip coffee mechanism. This would be a pretty banal statement if Sylvan himself weren’t the mastermind behind the Keurig K-Cup—the single-serve coffee brewing system which revolutionized the coffee industry but also created a massive waste problem.
According to The Atlantic, in 2014, nine billion non-recyclable plastic K-Cups were sold, used, eventually ending up in landfills. Sylvan, who, together with his business partner Peter Dragone, came up with the brewing system back in the 1990s, has since regretted the “Frankenstein” that he created.
“I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.” Sylvan told The Atlantic. “It’s like a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.”
3. Ethan Zuckerman: Pop-up ads
Few things can be as infuriating as intrusive pop-up ads disrupting your browsing experience. Ethan Zuckerman, the person responsible for developing the code behind these ubiquitous eyesores, shares the same sentiment. Today a director of the Center for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Ethan Zuckerman, came up with the pesky blighter while working for a web host company that provided free web pages for consumers and was trying to monetize somehow. So Zuckerman created a code for the pop-up ad and ultimately created what he called “one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit.” Zuckerman, who is now known as an “internet activist” and is tirelessly preaching for a better, more user-friendly online experience, regretted his creation. In an essay written in 2015 for The Atlantic, Zuckerman suggested, “It’s not too late to ditch the ad-based business model and build a better web.”
4. Tim Berners-Lee: World Wide Web
In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, an Oxford-educated computer scientist, came up with an idea to help scientists share data across an obscure platform called the Internet. He then released the source code for free to make the open and democratic platform called the Web. What Berners-Lee didn’t expect at all was that his brainchild would take on a life of its own and turn into this machine that would radically transform the world as we once knew it. What Berners-Lee, who was knighted “Martin Luther King of the digital world” by his colleagues, also didn’t suspect would happen was that this platform would be the birthplace of spreading misinformation, hate speech, spying on people, and changing governments, businesses, and societies.
“I was devasted,” Berners-Lee expressed his regret in a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair. “We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places”
5. Mikhail Kalashnikov: AK-47
In the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet Union was seeking a new automatic rifle that was reliable, durable, and easy to manufacture in large quantities.
Mikhail Kalashnikov, who had gained a reputation as a skilled designer of firearms, invented the AK-47 assault rifle, which has become one of the most widely used weapons in history. But he “would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work – for example, a lawnmower,” according to a 2002 interview with The Guardian.
Kalashnikov expressed regret for the deaths and suffering caused by his creation and wrote a letter to the Russian Orthodox Church saying, “I keep coming back to the same questions. If my rifle claimed people’s lives, can it be that I…, an Orthodox believer, am to blame for their deaths, even if they are my enemies?”
6. Robert Propst: Office cubicles
In 1964, the furniture design company Herman Miller announced a new revolutionary office plan designed by Robert Propst. Action Office was a modular system that allowed for flexibility and customization in the workplace, with adjustable desks and partitions that could be arranged in a variety of configurations. It was supposed to set office workers free; it was revolutionary, it was an office plan unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Despite Robert Propst’s intention for the Action Office II, the design was not utilized by companies as he had hoped. Rather than offering spacious and adaptable workstations with varying wall heights and configurations, the knockoffs that followed emphasized cramped, enclosed desks. Propst’s vision of a flexible workspace with open visual sightlines was ignored, and cubicles became a means of packing more employees into an office. Over time, his innovative design was distorted, resulting in impersonal and crowded workplaces that marked the beginning of the “cubicle farm” era.
In the years before his death in 2000, Propst spoke out against the cubicle, calling it “monolithic insanity” and “hell on earth.” He believed that the open office design, which he had originally sought to replace, was a better option because it encouraged collaboration and creativity.
7. J. Robert Oppenheimer & Albert Einstein: Atomic bomb
J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein, two prominent figures in the development of the atomic bomb, both experienced deep regrets and contemplation regarding their involvement in this groundbreaking yet devastating creation.
Oppenheimer, often referred to as the “father of the atomic bomb,” led the Manhattan Project, the top-secret U.S. research program that developed the first atomic bombs during World War II. Despite his instrumental role in the project’s success, Oppenheimer grappled with the consequences of unleashing such a powerful weapon upon the world.
Following the successful Trinity nuclear test in 1945, Oppenheimer famously quoted a verse from Hindu scripture, saying, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” This haunting acknowledgment expressed the weight of his responsibility and the remorse he felt for the immense destructive power he helped create.
Similarly, Albert Einstein, the renowned physicist whose theories laid the foundation for the development of atomic energy, also expressed deep regret over his involvement in the atomic bomb’s development. However, as the destructive power of the bomb became evident, Einstein became increasingly troubled by its use.
In the years following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer and Einstein both became vocal advocates for arms control and disarmament.
8. Victor Gruen: Shopping mall
Victor Gruen, an Austrian-born architect, pioneered the concept of the modern shopping mall. Inspired by European town plazas and Greek agoras, Gruen aimed to create enclosed, communal spaces where people could gather, shop, and socialize. In 1956, the first enclosed shopping mall, Southdale Centre in Minnesota, opened its doors, offering a unique environment for consumers. However, Gruen soon distanced himself from what malls had become, criticizing their excessive focus on parking lots and the resulting aesthetic discomfort. In fact, in 1978, two years before his death, he renounced his creation, saying: “I would like to take this opportunity to disclaim paternity once and for all.I refuse to pay alimony to those … developments. They destroyed our cities.”
9. Anna Jarvis: Mother’s Day
After Anna Jarvis’s mother passed away on May 9, 1905, the grief-stricken West Virginian started a quest to realize her mom’s ultimate dream of a holiday dedicated solely to mothers.
On May 10, 1908, three years after her mother’s death, Jarvis organized a memorial ceremony at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, marking the inaugural observance of Mother’s Day. She sent a heartfelt telegram and hundreds of white carnations to the attendees, symbolizing the purity and enduring love of motherhood. President Woodrow Wilson officially recognized Mother’s Day as a holiday in 1914.
However, as the years went by, Jarvis grew increasingly disheartened by the commercialization that overshadowed the true essence of Mother’s Day. So the woman who spearheaded a movement to commemorate mothers and their invaluable contributions to society spent the rest of her life protesting the holiday, which was focused mainly on flowers and gift cards.
In her later years, Jarvis encountered financial struggles, while others profited from the holiday she had initiated. She spent her final years in a sanitarium, with her medical bills reportedly being paid by individuals associated with the floral and greeting card industries.
10. Jenna Karvunidis: Gender reveal parties
In 2008, first-time mom-to-be Jenna Karvunidis thought it would be cute to announce her baby’s sex gender to her friends and family by cutting into a cake filled with pink icing. And it was cute indeed. What it’s not so cute is that the post of the cake she shared on Social Media went viral and sparked a massive, sometimes dangerous, and deadly trend.
In 2018, one such” extravagantly choreographed gender reveal party” in Arizona resulted in a massive 47,000-acre wildfire that ravaged the landscape. In another unsettling incident, the use of explosives during a gender reveal led to a devastating loss as a soon-to-be grandmother lost her life.
Karvunidis couldn’t help but feel partly guilty for setting this trend. “When I first saw that a gender-reveal party had caused a forest fire, I cried because I felt responsible,” she revealed to The Guardian in 2020. “But here’s the thing – when planes crash, no one goes after the Wright brothers. I think the parties probably would have happened anyway. I put form to it, but it’s not that crazy of an idea.” Karvunidis added.
11. Sam Altman: ChatGPT
Remember how we were all fascinated by how a chatbot could write an essay about the health benefits of bananas in a Shakespearean tone back in November 2022, and then we thought, “Wait, is this actually a bad thing?” Well, that’s exactly how Sam Altman, the creator of the AI-Language model ChatGPT, feels. Altman, the 37-year-old CEO of OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, revealed during an interview with ABC News that he was “a little bit scared” of this creation.
“We’ve got to be careful here,” Altman told NY Post. “I think people should be happy that we are a little bit scared of this.”
This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.
- The best hole-in-the-wall bars in every state
- Skip the crowds this summer at these secret national parks
Like MediaFeed’s content? Be sure to follow us.