Kim Peek, the real Rain Man

From: Thomas Buckner (
Date: Sun Mar 06 2005 - 17:01:38 MST

I have lately read a profile of the man on whom
the Dustin Hoffman Rain Man character is mainly
based. One article can be found at

He is not autistic nor institutionalized like the
movie character, but is not neurologically normal
either, born in 1951 with "an enlarged head, with
an encephalocele, according to his doctors. An
MRI shows, again according to his doctors, an
absent corpus callosum--the connecting tissue
between the left and right hemispheres; no
anterior commissure and damage to the cerebellum.
Only a thin layer of skull covers the area of the
previous encephalocele." Although he has the
nickname 'Kimputer,' he can't really dress
himself, and it's thought that both his abilities
and disabilities have to do with the 'split
brain', or lack of corpus callosum.

>From the article:
Fran Peek describes his son this way: "Kim is not
behaviorally autistic. He has a warm, loving
personality. He truly cares for people and enjoys
sharing his unique skills and knowledge capacity.
Known as Kimputer' to many, his knowledge-library
includes World and American History, People and
Leaders, Geography (roads and highways in U.S.
and Canada), Professional Sports (baseball,
basketball, football, Kentucky Derby winners
etc), the Space Program, Movies and movie themes,
Actors and Actresses, the Bible, Mormon Church
Doctrine and History, Calendar Calculations
(including a person's day of birth, present
year~s birthday, and the year and the date the
person will turn 65 years old so he or she can
retire), Literature/Authors, Shakespeare,
Telephone Area Codes, major Zip Codes, all TV
stations and their markets. He can identify most
classical music compositions and tell the date
the music was written and the composer's birth
date and place of birth and death Kim has read
(and can recall) some 7600 books. He also keeps
current on world, U.S. and most local events by
reading newspapers, magazines and by listening to
the media. He reads constantly He can also
describe the highways that go to a person's small
town, the county, area code and zip code,
television stations available in the town, who
the person's pay their telephone bill to, and
describe any historical events that may have
occurred in their area. His expertise includes at
least 14 subject areas."

A different article fills in the details a bit:

"You and I have a left brain and a right brain,"
Fran explained. "We only have to remember half of
what we hear because it goes through a filtering
system... Kim doesn't have a left and right
brain. He has no filtering system. Everything
that goes into his corpus callosum, which is
extremely all saved. He's been
blessed with a total photogenic [sic] memory."

The only scary part is this: "Peek is currently
working with NASA's artificial intelligence
department, in which scientists are trying to
recreate a 3-dimensional replica of Kim's brain."
Given NASA's track record over the last twenty
years... (shudders)

What interests me about savants is that they are
the closest thing we have right now to superhuman
general intelligence, and there might be a few
clues we can glean about the attitudes and
behaviors of a general SAI. Somehow, I'm not
surprised to read that Peek is a kindly man;
nasty people tend to be a bit stupid or narrow,
even if they are clever about getting what they
narrowly want. And I am tempted to fantasize
about getting him to take an interest in
programming and helping create a FAI. If anyone
can keep all the details straight, it would be

Tom Buckner

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