Dissuasion Engine

Chris Salter, Erik Adigard and Alexandre Quessy

How will your next online purchase decision impact your future and that of the planet?

Dissuasion Engine (DE) attacks the wicked problem of excessive mass online consumption, and the social and environmental costs it produces for future humans, species and the earth itself. These costs are what economists call externalities—the unpriced, unintended consequences that arise from our intended actions (like shopping). We seek to generate individual and collective awareness, debate, and action by specifically demonstrating the links between excessive consumption, externalities, and the pervasive automated software systems called recommender engines, which increasingly exacerbate our tendencies to excessively consume, hence producing ever-growing externalities. 

Starting from an interactive process of research and collaboration with environmental economists, degrowth experts, and other stakeholders including the general public, we will develop a real-world software application that is as subversive as it is potentially useful: a browser extension including user interface elements that delivers users real-time information, news, facts, and images about specific products’ externalities as they browse the top ten international retail sites (Amazon, Alibaba, IKEA, Walmart, eBay, etc). The extension is linked to a re-engineered, server-side recommender engine which, as opposed to giving us like-minded products (as recommender engines do) to encourage more consumption, attempts to dissuade us from consuming in the first place. By delivering information on externalities about the products we are considering purchasing in the moment of our decision making, this “dissuasion engine” informs us about the hidden costs of products and even potentially could subvert or derail our decision to consume. 

The information the engine will send includes facts, news on costs and consequence, images and statements that resonate like a “voice in the head/conscience” (Do you really need this? How many pairs of sneakers do you already own? Did you ever think that buying those toys for your kids might shorten their future?) that bring the experience of the present (the instant gratification gained from shopping) together with the potential futures of social and environmental costs and consequences. 

While individual decisions might not be swayed, the extension will also enable users to see other consumers’ comments about a particular product. Thus, potentially over time, we can build a much larger community who is better informed and aware of the unintended, unpriced costs of consumption decisions. In this sense, DE provides both a powerful and surprising experience and a practical toolkit to collectively grapple with the future consequences of our consumption decisions in the present.


Chris Salter is an artist, Full Professor for Design + Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal and Director of the Hexagram Concordia Centre for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technology. Trained in economics, philosophy, theater directing and computer music, his performances, installations, research and publications have been presented at festivals, exhibitions and conferences around the world. He is the author of Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance (MIT Press 2010), Alien Agency: Experimental Encounters with Art in the Making (MIT Press, 2015) and the forthcoming Sensing Machines: How Sensors Shape our Everyday Life (MIT Press, 2022).

(photo: Ankeburger)

Erik Adigard is, with Patricia McShane, the founder of M-A-D, an interdisciplinary studio combining brand positioning, interaction design, visual communication and environmental design. M-A-D routinely works on the relationships between technology and socio-cultural concerns. Notable works include visual essays for Wired, media installations for the Venice Architecture Biennale, the book Architecture Must Burn and the branding of IBM software. The Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design, Rome Prize in Design and Venice Biennale Special Mention are among Erik’s top awards. M-A-D’s work has been featured in major international exhibitions and publications, including SFMOMA, the London Design Museum, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, and Meggs’ History of Graphic Design.

Alexandre Quessy is the director of Art Plus Code Inc, a Canadian company that does software development and user experience design for innovative and artistic projects. He has worked as a software developer, and as an artist and designer since 2003. Quessy works as a senior software developer, business analyst and UX designer every day. He’s acting as an agile facilitator to manage teams of developers and designers. Over the years, he has worked as a developer in different teams, namely the Society for Arts and Technologies (SAT), Autodesk, D-Box and Boeing, to name a few.

Project Credits
Chris Salter, Erik Adigard and Alexandre Quessy

The organizers and supporters of the Driving the Human event.