Ben Taskar

Ben Taskar, a rising star in the University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering, passed away on Sunday after an unexpected and sudden illness. He was 36.

The passing of Taskar, an expert in machine learning, computational linguistics and computer vision who arrived at the UW earlier this year, left colleagues and friends grief-stricken.

“Ben was an outstanding computer scientist – one of the very best of his generation,” said Hank Levy, the department chairman. “He made many significant research contributions in areas spanning machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision.   Our entire department is devastated by his loss.  Even in a short time at UW, Ben’s brilliance and his positive and gentle nature made him admired and adored by everyone who knew him.”

Taskar was one of a group of recent young recruits to the UW’s Computer Science & Engineering Department, helping to put the program in the national spotlight. He arrived earlier this Spring at the UW, joining as a Boeing Associate Professor and working alongside other notable recruits such as professors Jeff Heer and Carlos Guestrin. Taskar, who earned a bachelor’s and doctoral degree from Stanford University, previously served as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Computer and Information Science Department.

He was awarded the Sloan Research Fellowship, the NSF CAREER Award and was selected for the Young Investigator Program by the Office of Naval Research and the DARPA Computer Science Study Group.

Matt McIlwain, a venture capitalist at Madrona Venture Group, said he was terribly saddened to hear of Taskar’s death.

“It is just a shock to the whole system,” said McIlwain, who had come to know the computer scientist in recent months. “Ben was just a marvelous, marvelous guy.”

The cause of death was not known, though it is believed to be connected to a heart attack.

Taskar is survived by his wife, Anat Caspi, and daughter, Aviv Taskar.  Services will be held in San Francisco. A fund will be set up in Taskar’s name in the near future, and you can contact the UW Computer Science & Engineering department for more details.

“When a 30-something person dies unexpectedly, leaving behind a spouse and a young child, it scarcely matters that he or she was one of the generation’s leading computer scientists,” said Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. “Ben was that, though, a leading figure in machine learning who made a tremendous impact on our program in his short time here.”

Correction: We’ve corrected the age of Taskar. He was born in March of 1977.

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  • NLP

    Such a great guy, RIP

  • gtosuper
  • Mark H. Harris

    . . . a profound loss.

    Truly saddened.

  • Mark

    was so young

  • blackqq

    I would figure how this could’ve happened was because he as a professor worked way too hard. Kids in universities think professor is an easy profession but in reality all untenured professors and ambitious tenured ones work day and night sometimes on averge 18 hours a day 7 days a week. Their workload is unfathomable for anyone from outside. This country’s scientific career has become unimaginably competitive. Very saddened and appalling news. R.I.P.. Take good care of yourself Profs.

    • galois

      machine learning isn’t for everyone. unfortunately there are many people who have tried to make it inclusive (dr koller) by making up mathematics that is usually unverifiable, with the exception of a few niche cases that gets the work published. by all accounts dr taskar was a great man whose life was taken too soon, but the real question that should come out of this is the amount of “hard work” people in “machine learning” put into “probababullshit graphical models”.

      they are in the office 18 hours a day because they have to contrive situations in which their work is relevant. unfortunately this work is far too common, and it excites the greedy wall street individuals who are eager to turn a profit at any cost– even if the math does not make sense.this is not machine learning, but the greedy industry doesn’t care about the truth. they care about buzzwords that can increase their profit margins by using projections/valuations of SOCIAL MEDIA (seriously?).

      academia and science are due for a radical shift within the next year. for the others out there who think they are “machine learning”, start learning how to tell the truth and stop fitting models to contrived data, because when you see the truth you also may go into a state of shock like dr taskar.

      rest in peace dr taskar. if i would have known REAL machine learning would have caused dr taskar to be in such shock, maybe i would have gone about my work differently. if i am in the position to help your family in the future, rest assured i will.

      sorry brudda.

      long live BOURBAKI (the TRUTH)

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