Tuesday, April 9, 2024

In the Mind of a Spy Teaser Tuesday #rabtbooktours


The Mind Sleuth Series #7


Mystery; Spy Thriller

Date Published: 04-25-2024

Publisher: Mind Sleuth Publications



When Jesse Bolger ran into an old acquaintance from his high school days, Robert Gleason, he wondered if the man still had an imagination that was unencumbered by reality. His question was answered in the affirmative that evening. After insisting they talk inside his homemade, electronically shielded room so no one could listen to their thoughts—no tinfoil hat was good enough for Robert—he confided that he’d stumbled onto two KGB-era Russian spies intent on destroying the United States. And he wanted Jesse’s help to stop them.

Jesse was certain, of course, that it was just a hoax, but he played along. It didn’t prove to be one of his better decisions, however, as the next thing he knew, he was being detained by the FBI under suspicion that he was a double agent. And where was Robert Gleason, the man who had started this whole fiasco, the unemployed eccentric who lived in his grandmother’s basement in a retirement community while he was learning to talk to self-aware computers? He was nowhere to be found.

Knowing he was out of his league to investigate a missing persons case, Jesse hired private investigator Rebecca Marte, hoping she could unravel a case that one minute looked like a spy spoof and the next, a terrorist plot that would plunge the United States into financial pandemonium.


Excerpt from the first night Jesse Bolger went to Robert Gleason’s home

“… a cone of silence, of a sort, is why I wanted you to come over here tonight. We need to talk and I’ve got the perfect place.” Gleason raised a hand toward a cube of about six feet on a side. It was covered with a shiny fabric. “That’ll keep our brain waves safe from prying sensors.”

Jesse could feel himself scowling as he tried to make sense of the words. “Is that supposed to be something like a tinfoil hat?”

Now, it was Gleason’s turn to look perplexed, but his confusion only lasted a moment. “Oh, yeah. Like people wear so the aliens won’t listen in on their thoughts. That’s pretty funny, but don’t be ridiculous.”

“Yeah, I didn’t—” started Jesse.

“A tinfoil hat would only protect you from aliens who were directly overhead. I’m not too worried about them if they’re still in the air. But on the ground ….” He slowly shook his head. “Now, that would be bad news. Really bad.”

Jesse was struggling for a reply when Gleason continued. “Anyway, that’s a SCIF, giving us protection on all sides.”


Gleason nodded.

SCIF stood for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a fact that Jesse knew from his job. They were acoustically and electronically shielded rooms in which classified discussions could be held, and Ruger-Phillips West had several for their government projects. But Jesse had never heard of a private citizen owning one. “Where on earth did you find the stuff to build a SCIF?”

Gleason got one of those you’ve-got-to-be-kidding smirks on his face. “If you’re not running cables in and out—and I’m not—then acoustic and EMF radiation shielding are all you need. For the latter, just type ‘EMF radiation shielding fabric’ into any search engine and you’ll find lots of it. I split my orders among a half-dozen stores so I wouldn’t call attention to myself.”

“Someone would care if you bought it in bulk?”

“Are you kidding? They care about everything you look at, everything you buy, and even what you don’t buy. Sure, eventually they may piece it all together, but why make it easy on them? With a small purchase, they probably think I lined my billfold to keep someone from reading the data on my credit cards.”

Jesse wasn’t sure who “they” referred to, but that question only came in second. “So, you think whatever it is you have to tell me is so sensitive that you built a SCIF to discuss it?”

“Hardly,” Gleason said with a laugh. Jesse started to return the chuckle when Gleason added, “I already had it before any of this came up.”

Jesse figured his puzzled expression asked the question for him as Gleason explained, “I came to Denver because of that state representative who wanted to start the center for extraterrestrial communications. And, as he pointed out, the brain emits electromagnetic radiation in the form of brain waves. They are faint, and we have to put electrodes on the scalp to pick them up. But with more advanced civilizations …?” Gleason held out an empty hand in a shrug. “Who knows?”

Jesse recognized the story about the state representative. It had been all over the news a few years ago with his potential re-election opponents’ comments ranging from “it’s a waste of the taxpayer’s money” to “you can bet Uranus he’s after the little green man vote.” The representative had lost his seat in a landslide in the next election—extraterrestrial communication wasn’t a platform that sat well with Colorado voters. “Well, I’m not sure—” Jesse started.

“Oh, I know he was a kook,” said Gleason. He paused, his nose wrinkling a bit. It took a moment before the odor reached Jesse.

“Jeez, Charlie. I’m going to stop giving you those stuffed mushrooms,” said Gleason. “It’s either that or break out the gas masks.”

Surprisingly, Charlie looked like he had been chastised as he whined once, then laid his head down on his paws and looked up at us with eyes that looked even sadder than before. If the stench hadn’t been so bad, Jesse thought he might have laughed at the dog’s expression.

“Anyway,” continued Gleason, “you don’t need to tiptoe around that guy. His ideas sounded good at first, but they never panned out. So, after a bit of this and that, I got started on my current gig, talking to the other sentient beings in our world.”

“Animals? You’re working on some type of job that involves communicating with animals?” Jesse glanced at Charlie, who, though he had seemed to understand before, now seemed as confused as Jesse felt.

Gleason paused a beat, then said, “Yeah, I suppose animals are sentient … in a way. But I meant computers. Computers with artificial intelligence.”

Jesse could feel himself sit back in the chair as if another half-inch of distance between them would change his perspective. It didn’t, and he wasn’t sure what to say other than, “Oh, look at the time!” But Gleason spoke first.

“Yeah, not everyone thinks that machines are aware of the world around them. I think they are and that other people just haven’t spent the time necessary to get to know these beings. But if AIs aren’t aware yet, I’m fine with being ready to meet them when they are. And that’s why I’m studying prompt engineering.”

It was the last two words, “prompt engineering” that pulled this conversation back from the brink of irrationality for Jesse. Prompt engineering had been a growing technical discipline since the introduction of AI Large Language Models in late 2022. At its heart, the discipline involved designing and testing inputs that would get these systems to produce useful outputs for a given purpose.

“So, getting these LLMs to give you what you want is tricky?” Jesse asked. He was pretty sure he knew the answer but wanted to keep the conversation moving away from the question of machine sentience.

“It can be,” replied Gleason. “They always produce answers that sound factual, but sometimes, they are just making stuff up. Those are called hallucinations. But more often, they just don’t understand what you want.”

Gleason paused a moment rubbing his chin. “You work on a lot of training projects, right? Enough that you know a lot of the principles?”

“I work the procurement end of them, but you can’t do that without picking up a bit about the technology.”

Gleason nodded. “So, suppose you wanted to know the best way to teach pilots the steps of an emergency procedure so they don’t forget them in a pinch? If you ask an AI system that, I’d expect …. Better yet, let’s ask and find out.” He grabbed a laptop from the workbench and started to power it up.

“Do we need to go into the SCIF for this?” Jesse asked.

Gleason gave him a quizzical look, followed by, “No, why would we? And besides, I need the Wi-Fi, and it won’t work in there.”

After a moment, he opened an application on the laptop that Jesse recognized as part of a publicly accessible large language model. Gleason typed in a prompt about training pilots on emergency procedures, and in a second or two, the system responded.

Jesse skimmed the answer, somewhat surprised by what he saw. “You’re right. The question you asked seemed right on the mark, but the AI took it to be something about getting information into human long-term memory. It covers things like breaking the procedure into small steps or using visual aids. I thought the real issue was more about how to make sure people can perform under stress and time pressure. That would get into making the pilot’s reaction nearly automatic, something that he or she doesn’t need to think about to do.”

“I can’t say that I understood everything you just said, but it seems I made my point,” replied Gleason. “You gotta know how to talk to these beings.”

As for his beliefs that machines were or would soon be sentient, Jesse couldn’t decide if that made Gleason the perfect prompt engineer or perfectly wrong for the job. Would the belief that he was talking to a sentient being make his prompts better or taint them with a touch of delusion … assuming his belief was delusional? But getting to the bottom of that issue wouldn’t answer what the heck Gleason was so anxious to tell him, and it was time to move on to that question.

“So, your grandmother thinks we’re down here saving the world. Or was that just a figure of speech?”

About the Author

Bruce Perrin has been writing for more than twenty-five years, although you will find much of that work only in professional technical journals or conference proceedings. After receiving a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and completing a career in psychological research and development at a major aerospace company, he’s now applying his background to writing fiction. Not surprisingly, most of his work falls in the techno-thriller, mystery, and hard science fiction genres, examining the intersection of technology and the human mind now and in the future. Besides writing, Bruce likes to tinker with home automation and is an avid hiker. When he is not on the trails, he lives with his wife in Aurora, CO.


Contact Links








Preorder Link




a Rafflecopter giveaway 

RABT Book Tours & PR

1 comment:

I try to get comments published as quickly as possible. I don't always reply to comments on my blog, but I do try to visit as many people as possible when I participate in blog hops and I share links where possible to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and such so others can discover your work. I do read and appreciate your comments.